Malaysian king meets party leaders in hunt for new PM

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) –


Malaysia's king met political party chiefs Tuesday as the hunt began for a new prime minister, a day after the last leader quit.

Muhyiddin Yassin resigned Monday after a turbulent 17 months in office, plunging the country into political turmoil as it battles a worsening coronavirus outbreak.

He fell on his sword after members of his crisis-riven coalition pulled support, and amid mounting public anger at his government's handling of the pandemic.

The king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, has ruled out elections due to the outbreak, meaning it will likely be up to him to pick the next premier based on who commands most support.

Opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim and leaders from other parties headed to the national palace in Kuala Lumpur for a meeting with the monarch to chart a way forward.

With Malaysia's political landscape fractured after several years of upheaval, there is no obvious successor to 74-year-old Muhyiddin.

The opposition is pushing Anwar, who has been seeking the top job for two decades, while remnants of the collapsed government are trying to cobble together a coalition.

There has also been speculation a unity government could be formed until the outbreak is under control and polls can be held safely.

MPs have also been asked to submit the name of their choice for prime minister to the palace by Wednesday afternoon, and the drama is expected to take several days to play out.

A premier must have the support of at least 111 MPs out of 222 in the lower house of parliament.

The king is likely to compare MPs' submissions "with the results of today's meeting of the party chiefs, before arriving at a final decision", said Oh Ei Sun, an analyst at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Muhyiddin came to power without an election in March last year, at the head of a scandal-plagued coalition following the collapse of a two-year-old, reformist government led by Mahathir Mohamad.

But his government was unstable from the outset. His position finally became untenable after a group of MPs withdrew support, depriving him of a parliamentary majority.