Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has only been in power for a few days, but his integrity is already being called into question. Muhyiddin was appointed following a week of disorder after former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad unexpectedly resigned after two decades of public service.
Mahathir had become synonymous with Malaysian politics, his shadow looming over the state after he stepped down in 2003 before he returned as a purported savior in 2018. His return was orchestrated to counter the corruption-plagued government of then Prime Minister Najib Razak who is currently on trial for multiple counts of corruption. Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), has now risen from the ashes with the appointment of Muhyiddin.
Both Muhyiddin and Mahathir were members of UMNO under Najib’s leadership, however, they both left the party when Najib was implicated in the 1MDB scandal. The United States Department of Justice estimated $4.5 billion was stolen from Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.
Over $1 billion of the misappropriated funds went to Najib’s personal bank accounts. He is facing five trials, one of which could reach a verdict within a few months. His ouster from Kuala Lumpur was delivered on the back of the Alliance of Hope, a coalition of parties united for the sole purpose of taking down Najib and his corrupt government.
Muhyiddin and Mahathir found a new home in the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (MUIP), which quickly joined the Alliance of Hope in its successful defeat of UMNO.
Less than two years after casting off the shackles of Najib’s corrupt UMNO government, the Alliance of Hope splintered. As it turned out, the only thing they could agree on was their opposition to Najib. After he was dealt with, there was little left to unify the coalition.
As a result, the power that brought 94-year-old Mahathir back to the realm of Malaysian politics had evaporated. Unable to maintain his grip on the situation, he resigned last week. After an unsuccessful attempt to reorganize the alliance as a bloc that could sustain his position of power, Mahathir was cast aside when Muhyiddin cut a deal between MUIP and UMNO.
Mahathir called the move a betrayal and said he would never join a partnership with the corrupt party, even if it was the only way to keep his post.
The elder statesman accused Najib of orchestrating the political coup as a means to avoid serving prison time. Muhyiddin previously served in Najib’s government as his deputy prime minister before he was let go for questioning Najib’s role in 1MDB. Although sources told Reuters Muhyiddin has no intention of helping Najib, his complicit party has returned to power and actors within it may have less honourable intentions.
“If Najib can be part of the government now, he can do all sorts of things to free himself,” Mahathir said at a party meeting.
The new prime minister pledged to make fighting corruption a priority for his government, but as it is backed by UMNO, there are reasons to doubt the sincerity of his words.
Mahathir Threatens to Fight Back
Mahathir threatened to call for a vote of no confidence when the parliament convenes March 9. He continues to push for an earlier date. The alliance issued a statement declaring Mahathir has the support of 112 out of 222 seats.
“Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) has decided to ask the Dewan Rakyat Speaker to convene an emergency meeting for all members of parliament to show who commands majority support,” said Johari Abdul, the party’s chief whip.
In the civilian sphere, police are investigating two human rights protestors for leading a democracy gathering, one of them being Mahathir’s daughter. Like her father, Marina Mahathir called for an emergency session of parliament.
“This special parliamentary sitting must happen to test the majority vote. We must make this demand and it must happen this week,” Marina said.
Perhaps the Alliance of Hope can be reunited amid the threat of UMNO’s return to power and the possibility of a free Najib.