KUALA LUMPUR — Though he was removed as chairman of his Bersatu party on Saturday after regaining the support of other former allies, Mahathir Mohamad claims he has the backing to be appointed prime minister.
“I am now confident that I have the numbers needed to garner majority support in the Dewan Rakyat [parliament],” Mahathir said, in a statement released by the Alliance of Hope/Pakatan Harapan. The 94-year-old Mahathir had led the grouping to a spectacular election win in 2018 but government imploded on Monday when he unexpectedly resigned as prime minister.
Bersatu president and prime ministerial candidate Muhyiddin Yassin responded later on Saturday by saying he was replacing Mahathir as party chairman, though other party members quickly disputed the attempted takeover.
Muhyiddin emerged briefly on Friday as front-runner to become prime minister after receiving more backing from lawmakers than Pakatan Harapan’s Anwar Ibrahim.
Citing the “national interest,” Anwar on Saturday withdrew his candidacy, and said he had proposed to the country’s king “Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s name as PM candidate representing PH.”
Before the government fell on Monday, Anwar was leader-in-waiting, though Mahathir had sought to postpone the handover and it remains unclear whether the arrangement will be revived if Mahathir returns as prime minister.
Saturday’s drama comes after a week of deadlock during which Mahathir unsuccessfully pitched a “national unity” government.
As Pakatan Harapan kept insisting it would endorse Anwar for prime minister, Mahathir ruled himself out of the running on Thursday, name-dropping Muhyiddin as an alternative.
However Muhyiddin is counting on the support of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the party of Najib Razak, the former prime minister who is now on trial on charges of looting hundreds of millions of dollars of public money.
Both Mahathir and Pakatan Harapan have stated they will not allow UMNO back into government.
Muhyiddin was Najib’s deputy before being sacked in 2015 after he criticized his government’s response to the corruption allegations.
UMNO endorsed Muhyiddin for prime minister on Friday, after calling earlier in the week for snap elections to resolve the power vacuum created by Mahathir’s resignation and the collapse of the government.
Speaking to media on Saturday, UMNO vice-president Ismail Yassin criticized Mahathir for flip-flopping, saying “at first he wanted [to be prime minister], then he quit, then when Muhyiddin Yassin agreed, he came back, then he agreed that Muhyiddin is the candidate. Now he doesn’t agree.”Show