Aug 24, 2021 - World

Malaysia's new prime minister takes office amid COVID surge

A thumbs up from the new PM. Photo: Mohd Firdaus/NurPhoto via Getty

Ismail Sabri Yaakob began work on Monday as Malaysia's new prime minister, bringing the once-dominant but corruption-plagued United Malays National Organization (UMNO) back to power.

Why it matters: The new government will have to contend with the country’s worst-yet outbreak of COVID-19 and try to usher in a semblance of political stability.

  • Ismail’s Sabri’s predecessor, Muhyiddin Yassin, lasted just 17 months and spent much of that time trying to avoid a vote of no confidence. He took power in a backroom deal, suspended parliament through a pandemic state of emergency, and resigned last week after losing his always-flimsy majority.
  • The new prime minister is thought to have better relations with the various political factions.

Of note: Malaysia’s king, who has become a major political player despite the role being largely ceremonial — it rotates among nine sultans — opted against early elections due to the pandemic and instead appointed Ismail Sabri, whom he said had secured a narrow majority.

  • The king has said the new prime minister should soon face a confidence vote.

Between the lines: The news is a blow to opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. He had previously been set to rotate into the prime ministership as part of a power-sharing deal following a historic opposition victory in the 2018 elections, but that coalition fractured.

  • UMNO had dominated Malaysian politics for six decades before the massive 1MDB corruption scandal. Now they’re back in power, but as part of a broader coalition.
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