Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and his government stepped down on Monday after 17 months in office ushering in a new period of political instability for the Southeast Asian country struggling with a COVID-19 outbreak.

“The government has handed in its resignation to the king,” Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced on his Instagram account.

The prime minister had come to power in March 2020 without an election and had led a coalition government since the fall of the reformist government of Mahathir Mohamad, a veteran of Malaysian politics.

A new election is unlikely in the short term due to the health situation, and observers expect a period of intense bargaining to achieve a new viable coalition.

The outgoing prime minister attacked his opponents within his own coalition in a speech on Monday.

“I could have taken the easier route by breaking my principles to remain prime minister, but it was not my choice,” he said on television. “I will never work with kleptocrats”.

The prime minister said that several deputies who had withdrawn their support, including ex-leader Najib Razak involved in the vast 1MDB corruption scandal, sanctioned him for refusing to cancel the charges against them.

Muhyiddin Yassin was also strongly criticized by the opposition for having imposed a state of emergency in January due to the epidemic which suspended parliament and thus allowed him to escape elections.

No obvious successor

The 74-year-old prime minister tried again on Friday to cling to power by unsuccessfully offering to opposition elected officials to support him in exchange for the adoption of several reforms.

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But after failing in his attempt to gain the support of parliamentarians, he offered his resignation to the Malaysian monarch.

The palace confirmed in a statement that the king had officially accepted Mr. Muhyiddin’s resignation and made it clear that he would be acting prime minister before his replacement.

Without an obvious successor, Malaysia could plunge back into a new period of political instability, such as those it has already experienced on several occasions against the backdrop of a struggle between rival factions.

Attempts to form a new government will begin on Tuesday, with representatives of the main parties summoned to meet with the king, the Malaysiakini news portal said.

Since its independence from Great Britain in 1957, Malaysia has been ruled for six decades by UMNO, a party dominated by the Malays, the majority ethnic group which also includes significant Chinese and Indian minorities.

But resounding corruption scandals, a discriminatory policy in favor of Malaysians and an authoritarian turn caused him to lose the elections in 2018.

The victory of the opposition and the arrival of reformist Mahathir Mohammad raised hopes for change, but his government fell due to rivalries between its leaders, allowing the UMNO to return to power in a coalition government led by Mr. Muhyiddin.

The legitimacy of Muhyiddin Yassin, who came to power without an election, has nevertheless been questioned, as has his failure to contain the spread of COVID-19.

This country of 32 million inhabitants is going through a strong wave of contamination, with tens of thousands of new cases every day, and its economy has been undermined by the lockdowns and restrictions imposed by the government.

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