Malaysian King to Meet Royal Rulers as Search for PM Nears End
(Bloomberg) -- Malaysia’s king is set to chair a meeting with the nation’s royal rulers on Friday afternoon, deepening the monarchy’s role in the politics of the Southeast Asian nation as it grapples with a surge in virus cases.
The meeting comes a day after King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad interviewed members of parliament supporting former deputy prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob as the successor to Muhyiddin Yassin, who resigned Monday.
Ismail Sabri and Anwar Ibrahim emerged as the frontrunners when MPs submitted their premier candidate to the palace.
It is unusual for a Malaysian monarch to play such a prominent role in politics considering one coalition ruled for six decades until the 2018 election. The nine members of the Conference of Rulers, who take turns as monarch, have since the country’s independence from British rule mainly performed ceremonial functions like swearing in ministers or pardoning criminal convicts.
The current monarch began stepping into the political fray in February 2020 when the government abruptly collapsed.
Under constitutional law, any lawmaker who can command a majority among the 220 members of parliament can stake a claim to form the government, though the king needs to give his assent to formalize the appointment. The palace said in a statement on Wednesday the new prime minister should face a confidence vote in parliament as soon as possible.
“His royal Majesty reminded leaders and representatives of major political parties that, for the sake of harmony, the MP that wins should reach out to work with those that did not succeed, and all quarters should be prepared to work as a team,” the statement said.
“In other words, the winner doesn’t win all, and the loser doesn’t lose all.”
Muhyiddin and his cabinet resigned after more than 17 months in power, fueling a crisis of leadership in a country beset by a weakened economy and a surge in Covid cases. New infections soared by more than a record 22,000 for a second straight day on Thursday.
Ismail Sabri has the backing of the Barisan Nasional alliance and the former ruling Perikatan Nasional coalition to become the ninth prime minister.
Muhyiddin said in a statement on Thursday that he endorsed Ismail Sabri to ensure political continuity until it is safe to hold a general election. The PN coalition’s backing hinges on Ismail Sabri’s new cabinet being trustworthy and free of any criminal charges against them, Muhyiddin said.
Lawmakers from the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition backed Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister, Fahmi Fadzil, communications director for the People’s Justice Party, said. The Sabah-based Warisan party, which is not a part of the alliance, supported Anwar as well, according to party leader Mohd Azis Jamman.
The next prime minister is set to to inherit a legacy of deep political divisions, a weakened economy and a deteriorating virus situation. Last week, Malaysia’s central bank cut its 2021 economic growth forecast for a second time as renewed curbs on movement and rising infections hamper the recovery.
The economy shrank 2% in the second quarter on a seasonally adjusted basis compared to the previous three months, cutting short a brief uptick and prompting Muhyiddin to announce a further easing of curbs on Thursday.
“This is a terrible time to be in power in Malaysia because of Covid and also because of the whole issues of having no parliamentary majorities,” said Francis Hutchinson, coordinator of the Malaysia studies program at the ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute.
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