Former Malaysia deputy PM emerges as leading candidate for premier


Intl desk, Aug 18: Malaysia’s former deputy premier, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, has emerged as a leading candidate to be the country’s next prime minister ahead of a Wednesday afternoon deadline set by the king for lawmakers to submit their choice of a new leader.

Muhyiddin Yassin resigned as prime minister on Monday, along with Ismail Sabri and the rest of his cabinet, after conceding he had lost his majority in parliament. He remains caretaker premier until a successor is named, Reuters reported.

The Southeast Asian country’s King Al-Sultan Abdullah has given members of parliament until 4 p.m. local time (0800 GMT) to submit the name of one candidate they want as premier.

Barisan Nasional, a coalition that includes Malaysia’s biggest party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), named Muhyiddin’s former deputy Ismail Sabri as their choice, state news agency Bernama reported on Tuesday night.

The 61-year-old would likely be able to secure the confidence of more than half of the 222-member parliament with the support of Muhyiddin’s party, Bersatu, and the Islamist PAS party, Bernama quoted UMNO lawmaker Tajuddin Abdul Rahman as saying.

Ismail Sabri, a senior member of UMNO, spearheaded security policies during the COVID-19 crisis and was promoted to deputy prime minister in July in a bid by Muhyiddin to ease tensions with UMNO, a key ally.

He later went against UMNO’s call to withdraw support for Muhyiddin, remaining as part of the administration until the cabinet’s dissolution this week.

UMNO lost a 2018 election over widespread graft accusations, with former premier Najib Razak and party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi facing dozens of corruption charges, but it remains key to the formation of any new government amid political instability.

Opposition party Pejuang said it would support any candidate that was not part of a “court cluster”, referring to politicians facing criminal charges.

Pejuang president Mukhriz Mahathir, the son of Muhyiddin’s predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, told television news channel Astro Awani the party’s top picks were opposition leaders Anwar Ibrahim and Mohamad Shafie Apdal, but it would be open to supporting Ismail Sabri as well.