Malaysian PM seeks Mahathir’s endorsement of new government
Published: Mar 11, 2020 10:33 PM
Malaysia's new prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, extended an olive branch on Wednesday to the leader he recently replaced, veteran politician Mahathir Mohamad, calling on him to endorse the new government after weeks of political tension.

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin arrives to unveil his new cabinet members at the Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya on Monday. Photo: AFP

Mahathir, 94, sparked turmoil with his surprise resignation in February, shortly after his coalition partners were seen in talks with his opponents.

Muhyiddin, a former minister in Mahathir's cabinet, was later sworn in as prime minister on March 1, joining hands with the old ruling UMNO party - which lost a general election for the first time ever in 2018 - and the Islamist party PAS to form a new coalition.

In an interview published on Wednesday, Mahathir conceded that he no longer commanded a majority in parliament and would not win a vote of no confidence in the new prime minister, after some supporters abandoned him to join the new premier's camp.

In response, Muhyiddin said he had written to Mahathir to request a meeting and apologize to Malaysia's most prominent political figure, who ruled for 22 years between 1981 and 2003, before coming out of retirement to contest and win the 2018 election.

"We have formed this government and I want Tun to endorse this government, that it is a government for the people," Muhyiddin, referring to Mahathir by his title, told a news conference.

Mahathir was not immediately available for comment.

Muhyiddin also dismissed speculation about an early general election.

"I don't want that," he said. "People will not only curse, they will say this is not the right time. We are here to serve."

Muhyiddin's appointment comes as Malaysia deals with a downward-spiraling economy, as well as the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on trade and a crash in global oil prices.

Malaysia has reported 129 cases of coronavirus, which poses a risk to its export markets. The oil price crash will hit earnings from exports of liquefied natural gas.

Muhyiddin earlier announced the formation of an economic action council, made up of senior ministers, the central bank governor and various experts, to tackle the economic risks and review the government's finances.

Muhyiddin said a planned 20 billion ringgit ($4.73 billion) stimulus package that the former government announced in February would be reviewed to see if it should be increased.

"The cabinet is cognizant that the situation facing the country is not good," he said. "This is an immediate step to show the country we are not waiting on the sidelines."

The government would "consider all options," Muhyiddin said when asked whether he planned to reintroduce a goods and services tax.

The unpopular 6 percent consumption tax was removed.