Malaysia's new prime minister takes office amid economic challenges

KUALA LUMPUR: Muhyiddin Yassin took office on Monday as the new Prime Minister of Malaysia and culminated a political chaos caused by the surprising resignation of Mahathir Mohamad , and as the country's economy weakens mainly due to the spread of the coronavirus.

In a marked difference with respect to the administration of its open predecessor of 94 years, Muhyiddin, 72, shy of publicity, did not make public comments to the state media that requested his first day in office.

His office issued a two paragraph statement saying he met with government officials but had no plans to see political leaders. He also visited his parents' graves in his hometown in Johor, neighboring Singapore , to pay their respects.

Muhyiddin, who unexpectedly fought a challenge from his former boss Mahathir to get the top job, will soon have to negotiate with his new partners in the Malaysian nationalist alliance to elect his colleagues in the cabinet.

One of his biggest challenges would be to revive Southeast Asia The third largest economy that grew at its slowest pace in a decade in the fourth quarter.

It was not immediately clear if he would stick to a $ 4.7 billion stimulus package announced by Mahathir last week as interim prime minister to counteract the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Malaysia has reported 29 confirmed cases of infection, with 22 already cured and released.

The change of government and the assembly of a new cabinet, appointments are expected soon, could delay the deployment of stimulus measures announced by Mahathir, said Peter Mumford of the Eurasia Group consultancy.

In addition, the deterioration of relations between Muhyiddin and Mahathir means that there is a risk that the former will replace the latter's appointments in companies linked to the government, creating a period of uncertainty that delays investment plans.

Foreign investors threw shares worth 1.26 billion ringgit ($ 300 million) last week, the highest in 88 weeks, as domestic political uncertainty added to concerns about the disease outbreak.