By Joseph Sipalan
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – New Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin pledged to prioritize the fight against corruption on Monday after taking over from 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad with the backing of a former ruling party tarnished by graft.
Muhyiddin took office after a week of turmoil following the resignation of Mahathir, who was elected two years ago amid anger over the multi-billion dollar 1MDB scandal for which former prime minister Najib Razak is now on trial.
“The government under my leadership will prioritize efforts to increase the integrity and good practices by government,” Muhyiddin, 72, said in his first speech since being sworn in as premier on Sunday.
“This includes efforts to stamp out corruption and abuse of power and improving enforcement and the relevant laws, regulations and practices.”
Muhyiddin’s biggest backer in terms of parliamentary seats is the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which was driven from power after six decades in 2018 by an alliance of Mahathir and his old rival, Anwar Ibrahim.
In a week of political twists and turns after Mahathir’s resignation, Muhyiddin was named by the king as being the most likely candidate to be able to win a majority. That left both Mahathir and Anwar sidelined.
Muhyiddin said he had not sought the post of prime minister but now wanted reconciliation and to be given the chance to lead.
His speech lacked the fireworks that Malaysians had come to expect from the more animated Mahathir.
Malaysians are waiting to see what impact the new government will have on the trials of UMNO officials.
The U.S. Department of Justice estimates $4.5 billion was misappropriated from Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign fund between 2009 and 2014. Najib is facing 42 criminal charges related to losses at 1MDB and other state entities. He denies wrongdoing.
Muhyiddin faces anger from supporters of Mahathir’s administration, in which he had served as interior minister. Some accuse him of leading a coup from within to form a backdoor government with their enemies.
Police said they were investigating whether a rally on Sunday against Muhyiddin’s premiership, in which Mahathir’s eldest daughter, Marina, took part, contravened a law on illegal assembly.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff, Krishna N. Das and Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Nick Macfie)