Following a week of political upheaval, Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as the 8th Prime Minister of Malaysia after the resignation of Mahathir Mohamad. His appointment ruffled feathers as the legitimacy of his succession was questioned by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition led by Mahathir. Mahathir alongside the PH alliance has claimed that they have the support of 115 of the country’s 222 lawmakers, a simple majority that destroys Muhyiddin’s legitimacy.
While the opposition camps have demanded a reconvene in early March, Muhyiddin has postponed parliament to May in an attempt to delay their planned gambit of a motion of no-confidence. Analysts say that this will buy him time to consolidate support until the next seating.
Now, the public focus is on his ability to form a reasonably clean and competent cabinet, one that is more than a heavy nationalist Malay line-up. This raised questions on whether the new formation would mean the return of former ruling party the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) into Malaysian politics.
The return of UMNO would signify the end of Mahathir’s multi-ethnic government and a shift to one that is veered towards religious conservatism in a majority-Malay country. Under the six decades-long dominance of UMNO, the country has practised positive discrimination towards the majority race, with Malays in key political positions as well as preferential access from public financing.
Many expressed concerns that with the new unified Malay composition under Muhyiddin’s administration, minorities would continue to be neglected and side-lined. The non-Malays voters overwhelmingly voted for the more progressive and multiracial PH in the 2018 election. As such, Muhyiddin’s new cabinet would determine whether he can win over the support of non-Malay voters and bolster public confidence.
Apart from public dissent, the new administration also faces hurdles to overcome infighting within the new government. Many influential leaders, including Muhyiddin himself, are joined by a bipartisan caucus of predominantly Malay MPs to rework the administration, ostracising the Chinese centric Democratic Action Party (DAP) and side-lining Anwar, the minister in waiting.
More needs to be done by Muhyiddin if he chooses to fulfil the country’s promise of multi-ethnic democracy.