The ongoing political upheaval in Malaysia that got triggered by the resignation of world’s oldest Prime Minister- 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, has taken yet another turn. Malaysia’s King, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah has appointed 72-year old politician and Interior Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin as the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
The President of Mahathir’s Bersatu party, Muhyiddin Yassin likely commands the most support of any candidate. With this, PM-designate Muhyiddin Yassin has outmanoeuvred both Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim who were engaged in a power struggle. Even a last-minute deal between Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim, and designation of the latter as his successor by Mahathir couldn’t impede Muhyiddun’s appointment as the Prime Minister.
Muhyiddin is a seasoned politician having served as Johor Chief Minister in the early part of his career followed by several senior posts in Central Government. In 2009, he was appointed as the Deputy Prime Minister in 2009 in the Najib Razak government. However, what should be of special interest to New Delhi is Muhyiddun’s tenure as the Interior Minister of Malaysia in the Mahathir government till a vicious infighting led to the ruling coalition falling apart.
During his tenure as the Interior Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin had dropped hints of opposition to Zakir Naik. Last year, when the Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman had made certain remarks defending controversial and hateful Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, Yassin had made it clear that Abdul Rahman’s remarks did not reflect upon the position of the Malaysian government and would not disrupt the ongoing proceedings on the issue of Zakir Naik.
Yassin had further made it clear that pictures of the Minister with Naik did not suggest that the latter was enjoying political protection of any sort and that Rahman had only represented himself in the matter. He had said, “His actions do not speak for the government or the party. Many have met with Zakir, so it is nothing unusual.”
The PM-designate was then also quoted as saying, “For me, it doesn’t matter; we aren’t bound by their views. We are bound by the rule of law.” The Islamic preacher had come under fire in Malaysia for bigotry with comments pitting Malaysia’s ethnic and religious minorities against the Muslim Malay majority.
It was in this context that Yassin had hit out at Zakir Naik who has been staying in the country as a Permanent Resident (PR). Yassin had said, “There is no exemption. No one is above the law … It is the same for Zakir Naik as with everyone else.” Then Home Minister had also said, “There are Muslims who want to defend him. True, he is a preacher and a (Muslim) expert, but if he touches on certain (sensitive) matters like what he has (purportedly) done, we cannot allow that.”
He had also remarked, “Do we want to remain silent if that triggers instability due to widespread feelings of dissatisfaction?”
It must be noted that with the Islamist Mahathir at the helm of affairs, Zakir Naik enjoyed at least some measure of political impunity.
For instance, a public university in Malaysia has declared Naik as ‘icon of the Islamic world’ in a university question paper. A question in Universiti Malaysia Perlis examination paper on Ethnic Relations read, “ZakirNaik is one of the icons of the Islamic world. He is very active in spreading true Islam and following the Quran and Sunnah of Rasulullah SAW. He is able to reason and to answer every question that is asked to him. However, in Malaysia, he is no longer allowed to deliver his preaching. In your opinion, as a Malaysian, why does this happen?”
Now, with Yassin at the helm of affairs, we can expect a sharp tilt in the policy pursued by the Malaysian government as far as Zakir Naik is concerned. This might well lead to a renewed effort by New Delhi to get Zakir Naik extradited. There have already been voices in favour of deporting Naik to India within Malaysia’s political circles- something that might get a major shot in the arm with an anti-Zakir Naik politician assuming the Prime Ministership of the country.
Moreover, it is to be kept in mind that Indo-Malaysian ties have touched a new low with the 94-year old Mahathir constantly speaking against India’s interests. First, he allied with Pakistan on India’s internal matter of Article 370 abrogation. He further antagonised New Delhi with his objectionable remarks about the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Malaysia suffered a major jolt at the hands of India, whose restrictions on palm oil imports, though product-specific instead of being country-specific spelt trouble for Kuala Lumpur. Now, by deporting Mahathir to India, the PM-designate Muhyiddin Yassin would like to earn New Delhi’s goodwill and bring the bilateral ties back on track as palm oil restrictions can be a major drain on the Southeast Asian country’s economy.
Zakir Naik’s extradition might therefore become a reality very soon with a change of regime in Malaysia.