New Malaysian PM faces tall task in uniting polarised society

New Malaysian PM faces tall   task in uniting polarised society

Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia's new Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob will be sworn in Saturday, bringing back the rule of the country's longest-governing political party, but he faces a tall task in uniting a polarised society and reviving a slumping economy amid a worsening pandemic.

Ismail was the deputy prime minister under the government of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who resigned Monday after less than 18 months in office as infighting in his coalition cost him majority support.

Ismail obtained the backing of 114 lawmakers for a slender majority that brought Muhyiddin's alliance back to power. It also returned the premiership to Ismail's United Malays National Organisation, which had led Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957 but was ousted in 2018 elections amid a multibillion-dollar financial scandal.

Malaysia has a new PM, with essentially the old politics and players. It's back to the past: UMNO is now in PM seat, returning to power to though elite bargains despite being booted out for corruption in 2018," said Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asian expert with Malaysia's Nottingham University.

Ismail, 61, faces a distrustful public amid public anger over the previous government's inconsistent policies and perceived failure in tackling the pandemic. Malaysia has one of the world's highest infection rates and deaths per capita, despite a seven-month state of emergency and a lockdown since June. Daily new infections have more than doubled since June to hit a record 23,564 on Friday, bringing the country's total to over 1.5 million cases. Deaths have surged to above 13,000.

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