KUALA LUMPUR — Hours after Mahathir Mohamad’s shock resignation as Malaysian prime minister on Monday, parties in his governing alliance clamoured to endorse his immediate return, as a power vacuum emerged in South-East Asia’s third-biggest economy.
Not only did Mahathir resign, but his Bersatu party pulled out of the governing Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition at about the same time, moves that seemingly meant the government’s imminent collapse.
But Mahathir’s former government allies seem unprepared to let the 94-year-old go.
Lim Guan Eng, Malaysian finance minister and leader of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a mostly Chinese-Malaysian part of the alliance, said during a press conference later on Monday that it supports the renomination of Mahathir, who was the world’s oldest head of government before he stepped down.
Amanah, another of the four parties in the alliance, also backed Mahathir remaining as premier.
Muhyiddin Yassin, president of Mahathir’s Bersatu party, said in a statement that he and the party lawmakers “continue to support and trust” Mahathir as prime minister.
Mahathir’s lunchtime resignation and the withdrawal of Bersatu from government came after a dramatic, intrigue-filled weekend.
A flurry of meetings between governing and opposition factions prompted Anwar Ibrahim, the designated successor to Mahathir, to allege “betrayal” by allies in a video posted on Facebook late on Sunday.
Shortly after Mahathir’s resignation, 11 members of Anwar’s People’s Justice Party, another part of the Mahathir-led coalition, announced that they were forming a new grouping under Azmin Ali, Malaysia’s economic affairs minister.
The political turmoil seemed to have been caused by a Sunday meeting involving parties of all stripes – including the opposition United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which Mahathir led during his first 1981-2003 tenure as prime minister – that drove speculation about an attempt to end the current coalition in favour of a new one.
Anwar blasted the meetings as “treachery” and supporters feared a plot to oust Mahathir’s successor-designate.
Speaking to media after Mahathir’s resignation, Anwar said Mahathir told him he did not attempt to undermine the alliance in favour of UMNO.
“He said and reiterated to me what he had said earlier, that he played no part in it [the alleged plot to oust the government] and he made it very clear, that in no way will he ever work with those associated with the past regime,” Anwar said.
The DAP’s Lim condemned the “treachery” of some now-former coalition partners, branding Ali a “renegade,” and said that Mahathir also told him during a Monday morning meeting that “he cannot work with UMNO.”
Anwar and Mahathir have a long and fractious history, going back to the early 1990s when Anwar, then a finance minister and deputy prime minister, was seen as Mahathir’s likely successor. But after a falling-out during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, Anwar was jailed on charges of sodomy and corruption he maintains were trumped-up.
The two men only reconciled in the run-up to Malaysia’s May 2018 parliamentary elections, when Mahathir led the opposition alliance to a shock election win over his former UMNO allies, in what was the first change of government in Malaysian history.
However Mahathir has repeatedly refused to announce a date for the proposed handover to Anwar and said on Friday night that the governing alliance had left it up to him when to quit.
Mahathir was due to meet Malaysia’s king on Monday evening, ahead of a scheduled leadership meeting of the remnant parties of the former governing alliance. But indicating that confusion was growing in the wake of the government’s apparent collapse, the alliance’s Monday afternoon meeting announcement was quickly followed by another statement postponing the meeting until Tuesday.Show