Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Wednesday announced the setting up of a new Economic Action Council to tackle the coronavirus outbreak and falling oil prices.
He also dismissed calls for a snap election and pledged that his newly-appointed Cabinet will work for all Malaysians.
“The economy is in a critical state. Oil prices have plunged 31 per cent to $30 per barrel, adding pressure to government revenue. Further exacerbating the situation is the Covid-19 outbreak,” the prime minister told a news conference after chairing the first meeting of his new Cabinet whose members were sworn in on Tuesday.
Muhyiddin called on his predecessor, Dr Mahathir Mohamed, to endorse his government. He also revealed that he had apologised in a letter to Mahathir if he had hurt him in the course of recent events which led to the collapse of the 94-year-old statesman’s Pakatan Harapan government.
Muhyiddin said he had requested to meet Mahathir but to no avail.
“I am ready [to meet Mahathir] anytime, any place, anywhere, for the sake of the country. We have formed this government and I want [Mahathir] to endorse this government. It is legal, it is constitutional,” said the prime minister.
Amid calls for a snap election and questions raised by some critics over the legitimacy of his administration, Muhyiddin said: “If you want to have a snap election, I don’t want that. People will only curse, it’s not the right time. We are here to serve.”
Dr Mahathir had previously stated that he had the numbers in Parliament to return as prime minister and mooted a vote of no-confidence against Muhyiddin in Parliament.
But, in an interview published on Wednesday in the Malay-language Sinar Harian daily, the former leader conceded that such a vote would likely fail.
He predicted that the new government would last until the next general election due in 2023.
“It [Cabinet] will last until the next general election. Now that he [Muhyiddin] is the government, he can give ‘sweets’ to many. I find that some of those who used to be my supporters have now been appointed ministers, and they have moved to that side,” Mahathir was quoted as saying.
The new Economic Action Council, comprising the ministers in charge of international trade, finance and the economy, as well as Bank Negara (the national reserve bank), will start meeting weekly from next Monday.
A RM20 billion ($4.7 billion) stimulus package announced by Dr Mahathir just before Mr Muhyiddin was sworn in as prime minister, will be reviewed and launched in the next two weeks.
Muhyiddin also said the government would look into whether the Goods and Services Tax (GST) would be resurrected amid widespread criticism against the Sales and Services Tax (SST) which was introduced under the former PH administration.
Promising that fighting graft would be a top priority, Muhyiddin said that all ministers will have to declare their assets.
He also offered to take a five to 10 per cent pay cut on his salary as prime minister, to help reduce government spending.
Muhyiddin, who had taken the unprecedented step of appointing four senior ministers instead of a deputy prime minister, said that all four senior ministers were equal, but Minister of International Trade and Industry Azmin Ali would chair Cabinet meetings in his absence.
THE STRAITS TIMES (SINGAPORE)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK