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According to constitutional lawyer New Sin Yew, the caretaker position gave Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin the same power and authority he had as the eighth prime minister of Malaysia. — Picture by Hari Anggara
According to constitutional lawyer New Sin Yew, the caretaker position gave Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin the same power and authority he had as the eighth prime minister of Malaysia. — Picture by Hari Anggara

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 16 — Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has the usual executive powers of a prime minister even if he is only in the position as a caretaker, legal experts explained today.

While noting that a caretaker PM should not make major policy decisions during this time, they noted that this was only by convention and not a binding rule.

Earlier today, Comptroller of the Royal Household Datuk Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin said the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has consented for Muhyiddin to be the caretaker PM until his successor is appointed.

According to constitutional lawyer New Sin Yew, the caretaker position gave Muhyiddin the same power and authority he had as the eighth prime minister of Malaysia.

He explained that this was because the Federal Constitution did not distinguish whether a prime minister was permanent or only a caretaker.

“You are either prime minister or you are not, no in-between,” he said.

“There is no meaningful difference between a prime minister and a caretaker prime minister, save that the latter is bound by convention to not make any major decisions, that is significant policy decisions,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.

A caretaker PM was necessary to ensure continuity in the day-to-day affairs of the government, he said before adding one was needed as there did not appear to be any federal lawmaker with a clear majority to be the next prime minister.

The arrangement now was similar to February 2020, when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad resigned as the prime minister and was reappointed in a caretaker capacity.

While Muhyddin was appointed as Dr Mahathir’s replacement on March 1, just over a week after Dr Mahathir’s resignation, there was also no time limit for how long a caretaker PM may remain in the position.

“Such a period should not be prolonged and certainly should not be till the next general election, it’s only until a new prime minister can be found,” said New.

He added that the MPs now need to find common ground and decide among themselves who should be the next prime minister, either by confidence-and-supply agreements or “unity government”.

Another constitutional lawyer, Kee Hui Yee, also said that the term “caretaker PM” was an informal definition that did not exist in the Federal Constitution.

However, she explained that the usual practice was that the caretaker PM would not introduce any significant new policies or sign any major treaties on the country’s behalf.

“His role is just to maintain the status quo and keep the civil service running,” she said.

Kee explained that a person was required to fill the position as Malaysia was a constitutional monarchy, which meant that the Agong may not directly control the government.

In a private session with senior news editors today, Muhyiddin also acknowledged the informal limits of his new role as caretaker PM.

Muhyddin said the attorney general has advised him that he has executive power until a replacement is named, albeit with some safeguards in place.

“For instance, now I cannot sign a RM1 billion cheque. I have to refer and follow the advice of the attorney general,” he was quoted as saying by national news agency Bernama.

Muhyiddin resigned as the prime minister during a royal audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong today, after he lost his parliamentary majority with the withdrawal of support by several Umno lawmakers.

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