Muhyiddin top contender for Malaysia PM

The former prime minister can clinch the top post through an alliance with hardline Islamists

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AFP) — Malaysia’s Muhyiddin Yassin is a low-profile political insider but after clinching an alliance with an Islamist party he has emerged as a top contender to become the country’s next prime minister.

Muhyiddin was Malaysia’s shortest-serving leader when he resigned last year from his first stint as premier, but it is now possible for him to get the numbers needed to win Saturday’s election, which had no outright winner.

He heads the Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance) coalition, which did not win a majority in Saturday’s election but is now in talks to form the next government.

Those talks will be helped by Muhyiddin’s alliance with the Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, which backs a hardline interpretation of Islamic law.

Following the collapse of a reformist alliance that had swept to power at landmark polls in 2018, Muhyiddin became prime minister for the first time in March 2020,outmaneuvering his more charismatic rivals Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim.

But the 75-year-old former interior minister quit the top office in August 2021 after only 17 months on the job as bitter infighting engulfed his coalition, and public anger swelled over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

His appointment by Malaysia’s king, rather than through the ballot box, led to accusations that he lacked legitimacy, while his parliamentary backing remained razor-thin and he struggled to tame competing factions in his coalition.

Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia expert from the University of Nottingham, said his term had been consumed by simply trying to survive.

‘Poster boy’

Muhyiddin’s close links to Najib Razak, a political heavyweight now serving a 12-year jail term for corruption, helped his rise to power.

In 1971 he joined the same party as Najib — the United Malays National Organization.

He climbed through the ranks to become chief minister of the southern Johor state, a heartland of the country’s ethnic Malay Muslim majority, and later served in senior posts in central government.

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