Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob looked set to form the next government after gaining a parliamentary majority from the same coalition that collapsed earlier this week, a lawmaker from his party said on Thursday.
Muhyiddin Yassin resigned as prime minister on Monday after conceding he had lost support from his alliance, bringing to an end a fraught 17 months in office and throwing the country into further political chaos amidst a Covid-19 surge and economic slump.
If confirmed, Ismail Sabri's appointment would mark the return of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party to leadership, three years after it lost a general election because of corruption allegations, especially around the multi-billion dollar scandal at investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Ismail Sabri, who was Muhyiddin's deputy, has gained the support of 114 lawmakers out of the 222-seat parliament, UMNO lawmaker Ahmad Maslan said on Twitter.
King Al Sultan Abdullah, the constitutional monarch who will be appointing a new premier, will meet with the 114 lawmakers on Thursday to verify their support, Ahmad said.
UMNO, governed the country for over 60 years until the election rout and two governments that came after the polls proved to be fragile and short lived. The party was part of the last one, but Muhyiddin's coalition collapsed when some UMNO lawmakers pulled out.
Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Ismail Sabri's government might not be stable either given his slim majority.
"And he was part of the previous administration. Policies will more or less be the continuation of the same," he said.
Ismail Sabri, 61, could be taking over at a time when Malaysia's coronavirus infections and deaths per million rank as the region's highest in the pandemic.
In Muhyiddin's government, he was among ministers responsible for framing Malaysia's response to the pandemic.
Public anger has grown in recent months over the administration's handling of the crisis as infections continued to spread at a record pace despite multiple extended lockdowns and ramped up vaccinations.
A member of parliament since 2004, Ismail Sabri served as a cabinet minister under two other prime ministers before Muhyiddin and held various portfolios including rural and regional development, agriculture and domestic trade.
The king is scheduled to meet with the country's other senior royals on Friday. A decision on the new prime minister is likely to be announced after that.
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