NEW DELHI: The last time Malaysia hit the headlines in India it was when its prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said India had invaded Kashmir, and joined hands with Imran Khan next door. The last word on Malaysia in the same media was about India shutting the doors on the import of palm oil from that country.
When Mahathir Mohamad lost his job last week, it merited only bare bones coverage even though it underscored new uncertainties for India and the region. Muhyiddin Yassin is the new man at the helm. He’s got the king to ensure that parliament meets only after two months. It gives him time to ‘consolidate’ his position (which probably means ‘incentivising’ MPs to join him in forming a government).
Muhyiddin was Mahathir’s ally until a few weeks ago. He turned against him after his government, the Pakatan Harapan, lost a spate of by-elections owing to the poor state of the economy. Muhyiddin joined hands with the UMNO (United Malays National Organisation), which had thrown him out in 2016 for various reasons. UMNO has ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957 but was soundly defeated in elections in 2018 owing to the 1MDB corruption scandal where then prime minister Najib Tun Razak was implicated.
Muhyiddin is an ethnic Malay nationalist and devout Muslim who is heavily invested in Malay-Muslim supremacy. The government is expected to return to the racial politics practised by UMNO, where Malay Muslims are given favoured treatment including preference in education and government jobs, leaving out ethnic Chinese and Indians.
Muhyiddin could draw on the support of the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party which is driven by one agenda: a strict Islamic penal code for Muslims and stoning to death of adulterers.