Explainer: What next in Malaysia's political crisis?

4 minute read

Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin speaks during opening remarks for virtual APEC Economic Leaders Meeting 2020, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will step down on Monday, news portal Malaysiakini reported on Sunday. read more

The resignation, if confirmed, could end months of political turmoil facing the Southeast Asian nation, which is already battling record high COVID-19 infections and an economic downturn from multiple lockdowns.

But it is not clear who would form the next government as no party has a clear majority in parliament.

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It would be up to the constitutional monarch, King Al-Sultan Abdullah, to decide what happens next.

Here are the possible scenarios:

INTERIM GOVERNMENT

The king can appoint an interim premier from among lawmakers, including Muhyiddin himself, until a permanent successor is found.

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and the king has the power to appoint as prime minister a lawmaker whom he believes can command a majority.

ELECTIONS

Muhyiddin can advise the king to dissolve parliament and call for early polls.

But elections are unlikely in the short term as Malaysia has seen a record number of COVID infections and deaths in recent days.

A general election is not due until 2023.

KING PICKS NEW PREMIER

When former premier Mahathir Mohamad resigned just two years into his five-year term in 2020, the king - in an unprecedented move - met with all 222 lawmakers to see who had the majority to form the government.

He picked Muhyiddin who had the backing of political parties that were then in the opposition.

The king could do the same now.

Below are the top candidates for premiership or as interim prime minister:

Ismail Sabri Yaakob, deputy prime minister

One of the key ministers handling the COVID-19 crisis, Ismail Sabri was appointed as deputy premier in July in a bid by Muhyiddin to ease tensions with key ally, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party.

He could get support from the majority of Muhyiddin's coalition, which has the backing of around 100 lawmakers. But it is unclear if he has the full support of UMNO. He went against UMNO's call to withdraw support for Muhyiddin.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, veteran lawmaker

Ku Li, as he is popularly known, has been a lawmaker for 47 years, held various ministerial positions in his political career and was the founding chairman of state oil firm Petronas.

The 84-year-old politician from UMNO is seen as a compromise candidate between the various factions in the party. UMNO support is key to the formation of any new government.

Anwar Ibrahim, opposition leader

The 74-year-old has repeatedly made a play for the top job, but has so far failed to show he can command a majority.

Anwar's Pakatan Harapan coalition has 88 lawmakers, well short of the simple majority needed to form a government.

His old foe Mahathir and some other opposition lawmakers do not support his premiership bid.

NATIONAL OPERATIONS COUNCIL

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad has proposed the formation of a bipartisan council that would govern the country until a new government can be formed.

The 96-year-old has offered to lead the council.

A similar council governed Malaysia for two years from May 1969 after deadly racial riots.

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Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Kim Coghill

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