Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian state royals are meeting Friday at the national palace to discuss the appointment of a new prime minister, with the likely choice stirring public anger and warnings of more political instability.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob is poised to take the top job after reportedly gaining the support of 114 lawmakers, a slender majority.
Ismail’s appointment would see the return of the United Malays National Organization, which ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957 before it was ousted in 2018 over a multibillion-dollar financial scandal.
The pick also would essentially restore the ruling alliance of Muhyiddin Yassin, who resigned as prime minister on Monday after less than 18 months in office.
King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah met with the lawmakers who reportedly back Ismail on Thursday, and his meeting with nine other ethnic Malay state rulers Friday is expected to discuss the outcome.
The king’s role is largely ceremonial in Malaysia, but he appoints the person he believes has majority support in Parliament as prime minister and the state rulers can advise him on such appointments.
Ismail’s 114 reported votes exceed the 111 needed for a simple majority but is close to the backing Muhyiddin had and was unable to keep. Ismail is from UMNO, the larger party in the alliance, leaving him on firmer ground, but he still needs Muhyiddin’s party for enough support to lead.
Angry Malaysians have launched an online petition to protest Ismail’s candidacy, with more than 340,000 signatures collected so far. Many believe Ismail’s appointment will only return the status quo, with its perceived failed response to a worsening pandemic.
Malaysia has one of the world’s highest infection rates and deaths per capita, despite a seven-month state of emergency and a lockdown since June. Daily new infections have more than doubled since June to hit a record 22,928 on Thursday, bringing the country’s total to nearly 1.5 million cases. Deaths have surged to above 13,000.