Malaysia’s Muhyiddin emerges as top contender for highest office


Muhyiddin’s close links to Najib Razak, a political heavyweight now serving a 12-year jail term for corruption, helped his rise to power.

In 1971 he joined the same party as Najib – the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

He climbed through the ranks to become chief minister of the southern Johor state, a heartland of the country’s ethnic Malay Muslim majority, and later served in senior posts in central government.

But he fell out with Najib in 2015 when he was sacked after criticising the multi-billion-dollar scandal linked to state fund 1MDB.

Najib was accused of looting huge sums from 1MDB, allegations that contributed to his coalition’s 2018 poll defeat, and led to him being jailed.

Muhyiddin later joined a party set up by Mahathir Mohamad, the 97-year-old elder statesman of Malaysian politics, and helped to oust Najib and UMNO from power.

In a volte-face typical of Malaysia’s turbulent politics, he joined hands with UMNO again last year to win enough support to become premier.

But when he refused to intervene in corruption cases against some of the party’s MPs, several pulled support, leaving him without a parliamentary majority.

In Saturday’s vote, Muhyiddin won by more than 10,000 votes over his nearest rival in his district of Pagoh.

“Muhyiddin remains popular, and this was evident as he was the poster boy for Perikatan Nasional during the election,” Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, deputy managing director of the BowerGroupAsia consulting firm.

“His narrative as someone who is against corruption, especially after he was pressured by UMNO leaders aligned with (party president) Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Najib to step down as PM, really struck a chord during the election campaign.”

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