Malaysia PM wins opposition support as Parliament resumes

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Barely a month in office, Malaysia’s new leader has won opposition support to shore up his fragile government in exchange for a slew of reforms as Parliament reopened Monday.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob will sign an unprecedented cooperation pact later Monday with the main opposition bloc led by Anwar Ibrahim that will prevent any bid to undermine his rule ahead of general elections due in two years.

The pact will give Ismail the backing of 88 lawmakers in Anwar’s bloc, in addition to 114 that support him in the 222-member house.

The government and Anwar’s alliance said in a joint statement late Sunday that their bipartisan cooperation will “restore political stability in the country to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and revive the economy.” They said they will focus on strengthening governance and parliamentary reforms.

The move came after Ismail last week offered reforms including new laws to prevent party defections and limiting the prime minister’s tenure to 10 years. He also pledged to immediately lower the minimum voting age from 21 to 18, ensure bipartisan agreement on any new bill and get opposition input on the country’s economic recovery. He also made it so the role of opposition leader gets the same remuneration and privileges as a Cabinet minister.

Malaysia has recorded close to two million COVID-19 infections, with more than 20,000 deaths despite a lockdown since June that has hurt the economy.

Ismail is Malaysia’s third prime minister since a historic vote in 2018 ousted the corruption-tainted United Malays National Organization, which led Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957. But mass defections caused the collapse of Anwar’s reformist alliance.

Muhyiddin Yassin formed a new government that included UMNO in March 2020 but he resigned Aug. 16 as infighting in his coalition cost him majority support. Ismail, who is from UMNO, was Muhyiddin’s deputy in the previous government and his appointment returned the premiership to UMNO.

King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, in his opening address in Parliament on Monday, lauded the bipartisan cooperation to help the country overcome its health and economic crises. He said he has received many letters from the public, outlining the struggles they face and their pleas for change.

“It is this kind of maturity that is craved by the people,” he said. “Too many have been affected by the pandemic, and too many have lost their sources of income.”

The monarch called for a moment of silence in memory of virus victims, and warned lawmakers not to gamble the country’s future for their own political interests.

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