Malaysia to try counter virus impact with huge 58bn-dollar stimulus – dpa international

Beggars on otherwise near-empty streets during lockdown in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Friday that Malaysia aims to spend 250 billion ringgit (58.2 billion US dollars) to counter the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking on national television, Muhyiddin said the “people’s economic stimulus package will benefit everyone.” With the economy at a standstill since a lockdown was imposed by the government on March 18, the prime minister pledged around a third of the funds to support hard-pressed businesses and promised one-off cash payouts to a range of groups, including unmarried low-income earners, pensioners and bottom-tier civil servants. A recent dip in prices for export commodities such as palm oil could leave Malaysia hard-pressed find the money to pay for its mammoth stimulus, which equates to just under a sixth of the country’s estimated 370-billion-dollar gross domestic product (GDP).

Producers say Malaysia’s lockdown could cause medical gloves shortage – dpa international

Inside a Kuala Lumpur shopping mall during Malaysia's anti-virus lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Manufacturers in Malaysia, the world’s biggest source of rubber gloves, warned on Monday that a government-imposed lockdown could result in a worldwide shortage of the protective equipment needed in combatting the coronavirus pandemic. The government has put the country under lockdown until the end of the month, forcing most businesses to close except for “essential” services. However the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA), an industry body, said its members have been forced by the lockdown to operate at half their usual capacity. The restrictions, the association said, have “led to a shortfall of gloves around the world,” prompting the group to urge the Malaysian government “to allow the rubber glove industry to operate at 100 per cent so that we can meet the surge in demand for rubber gloves from many parts of the world.”

Malaysian ex-leader Mahathir in isolation after possible virus contact – dpa international

Mahathir Mohamad attending a June 2015 conference in Kuala Lumpur in support of the Rohungya, a mostly-Muslim minority from Myanmar (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad, the 94-year-old who was the world’s oldest prime minister before resigning last month, has placed himself in two weeks of self-quarantine after meeting a lawmaker who subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. In a statement broadcast on television on Thursday evening, Mahathir said that it was important to be “disciplined” in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. “However, thank God, it is not so hard for me,” said Mahathir, who was a medical doctor before being first elected as a member of parliament in 1964.

Malaysia to impose lockdown after coronavirus case numbers swell – dpa international

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KUALA LUMPUR — Responding to a surge in coronavirus cases over the past week, the Malaysian Government has ordered sweeping travel restrictions, ordered most business except for shops to close, and banned foreigners from entering the country until the end of the month. In a 10pm address to the nation, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that the lockdown, which includes closing mosques across the Muslim-majority country, would apply from March 18-31, during which Malaysians will not be permitted to travel abroad. “The current situation of the outbreak requires drastic action to be taken to recover the situation as soon as possible,” Muhyiddin warned, adding that essential government services and banks will remain open. Malaysia reported 125 new cases of coronavirus on Monday evening, taking the country’s total to 553, 338 of which have been traced to an Islamic ceremony held in Kuala Lumpur’s outskirts in late February that was attended by an estimated 15-16,000 people and which spawned cases among worshippers from Brunei, Cambodia and Singapore. 

Graft-stained party gets Malaysia cabinet slots – dpa international

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak arriving at Kuala Lumpur High Court on February 10 2020 for one of his ongoing corruption trials (Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — A week after taking office, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin named members of a corruption-tainted party to his new cabinet alongside ministers who broke with the previous government led by Mahathir Mohamad. Several portfolios, including foreign affairs and defence, have been allocated to the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) of former prime minister Najib Razak, who is facing multiple charges of corruption.  Muhyiddin on Monday mentioned the need for “integrity” in government and repeated promises made in his maiden speech last week that he would not appoint anyone accused of corruption.

Malaysia’s anti-corruption chief quits in the wake of change of government – dpa international

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak arriving at Kuala Lumpur High Court on February 10 2020 for one of his ongoing corruption trials (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission head Latheefa Koya resigned on Friday morning but denied her decision was due to a change in government in favour of a party tainted by graft scandals. “Speculation that pressure was brought upon me is baseless,” Latheefa said, adding that she had “a cordial discussion” with new Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on March 2. Latheefa testified this week at a corruption trial involving former prime minister Najib Razak, who is accused of stealing over 700 million dollars of public money. Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is the largest party backing Muhyddin and will likely be part of his cabinet after almost two years in opposition.

Malaysia’s new prime minister seeks wider support, denies treachery – dpa international

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KUALA LUMPUR — In his first speech since being sworn in as prime minister on Sunday, Muhyiddin Yassin appealed to Malaysians for a chance to govern and rejected accusations that he was a traitor who had turned on his former party colleague Mahathir Mohamad. “Give me some time to outline a path under this new administration which I will explain to the people as soon as possible,” Muhyiddin said, speaking live on national television on Monday night. “I urge you to support me to undertake this huge responsibility entrusted on me.” Muhyiddin said that he did not want to be prime minister but stepped forward as a power vacuum emerged in the wake of 94-year-old Mahathir’s abrupt resignation a week ago. “What kinds of options I have? Support Dr Mahathir, who did not have the majority support or accept the PM post?” Muhyiddin asked.

Malaysia gets new prime minister but political stand-off continues – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday morning in a ceremony boycotted by Mahathir Mohamad, the previous prime minister, who claims he has a majority of lawmakers endorsing his return as premier after he quit less than a week ago. Muhyiddin’s appointment was announced by the country’s king on Saturday afternoon. Though the monarchy is largely ceremonial, the king can name a prime minister who he thinks is “likely” to command a majority in parliament, which in practice usually reflects election results. In turn, Mahathir and the Pakatan Harapan/Alliance of Hope coalition that made up the previous government published a list of 114 parliamentarians who they said backed Mahathir, two more than the number needed for a majority. Mahathir on Sunday described the the appointment of Muhyiddin as “strange” and said the king refused to entertain his claim of majority support.

Malaysia’s Mahathir claims enough support to re-form government, challenging appointment of Muhyiddin – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Interim Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said late on Saturday that he has parliamentary support sufficient to enable him to continue as premier, contradicting a statement by King Abdullah that rival Muhyiddin Yassin “was the MP who is likely to secure the majority support.” In the latest twist to a frenetic week of intrigue and alliance-shifting, Mahathir published a list of 114 parliamentarians he said support him continuing in the job, two more than the majority needed to form a government.  Muhyiddin is scheduled to be sworn in as Malaysia’s next prime minister at 10:30 am (0230 GMT) on Sunday, but Mahathir said he hopes the king “will accept my letter (with the 114 names) and explanation.”

Mahathir sidelined in struggle for Malaysian premiership as king turns to former party colleague – dpa international

Muhyiddin Yassin seen giving a speech at an anti-government rally in Kuala Lumpur in November 2016 (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — In the latest twist to what has been a week-long struggle for political control of Malaysia, the country’s largely ceremonial monarchy on Saturday nominated Muhyiddin Yassin as the next prime minister. In a statement issued by the palace, King Abdullah said that Muhyiddin, the president of interim prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Bersatu party, will be sworn in as prime minister on Sunday as he likely commands the most support of any candidate. Malaysia’s constitution stipulates that the king may nominate a prime minister if he deems any candidate “likely to command the confidence of the majority of the MPs,” which in practice usually means the leader of the winning side in parliamentary elections. The announcement came after Mahathir, 94, who resigned on Monday, threw his name into the fray again on Saturday morning.