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Malaysia's king upholds PM Muhyiddin's appointment as opposition mounts challenge

Kuala Lumpur

MALAYSIA'S king on Monday said the appointment of Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister during the turmoil this year was proper and constitutional, days after parliament put off a vote on an opposition challenge to his leadership.

Mr Muhyiddin's appointment on March 1, at the end of a week of political wrangling that led to the collapse of the ruling coalition, has been challenged by the opposition, who say it was not clear that he had majority support from among the 222 members of the lower house of parliament, the Dewan Rakyat.

The speaker of the lower house had at first approved a motion tabled by Mr Muhyiddin's 94-year-old predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, seeking a vote of no confidence in Mr Muhyiddin, but the vote was postponed indefinitely after the government shortened Monday's meeting, allowing time only for the royal address.

King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah said in his speech broadcast on national television: "Surely, every contest will have a conclusion. The country's political wrangling could not be allowed to fester without end. Hence ... in line with provisions under the Federal Constitution, I have found that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had the majority support of members of the Dewan Rakyat and was qualified to be appointed as the eighth prime minister."

He also warned lawmakers against resorting to hostility and slander: "Honorable members should always display maturity in politics," he said. "Do not revert the country to a situation of political turmoil while the people are still faced with various problems and a difficult future due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We call on the people to work together with the government to continue to develop the nation," he added. "We believe that only with solidarity between the people and the government will we be able to build a stable, peaceful and prosperous Malaysia."

The king's role is largely ceremonial, and it is unlikely his endorsement of Mr Muhyiddin's appointment would have any sway over a vote in parliament on the prime minister's leadership.

Monday's one-day meeting was the first time parliament convened this year. Its next session is scheduled for July 13 to Aug 27.

In February, the veteran prime minister Dr Mahathir resigned from his second stint in the job when his coalition collapsed.

Mr Muhyiddin, who served under Dr Mahathir as home minister, was unexpectedly sworn in on March 1 as the head of a government formed with the support of the old ruling party, that was tainted by corruption accusations and defeated by a multi-ethnic coalition in the last general election in 2018.

Mr Muhyiddin has focused on managing the health and economic crisis caused by the novel coronavirus.

Malaysia, which has imposed curbs on movement and business since mid-March, has reported 6,894 cases of the virus and 113 deaths.

The current government "will stay on for a while unless the economy hits bottom and erodes its legitimacy," said Wong Chin Huat, a professor at Jeffrey Cheah Institute on South-east Asia in Sunway University.

So far, the opposition coalition does not pose a "credible threat" to the government, said Ahmad Martadha Mohamed, a professor of government at Universiti Utara Malaysia. "With the country facing the crisis and the people's mind preoccupied with health and economic issues, many attempts at destabilising the government might not be well-received by the people," he said.

The government is working to implement its RM260 billion (S$84.6 billion) stimulus package, the biggest in South-east Asia as proportion of gross domestic product. It has promised another set of measures to bolster an economy struggling with the effects of the pandemic. These moves have kept Malaysia from contracting - the first quarter showed a surprise expansion of 0.7 per cent, the slowest since 2009. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

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