Malaysian opposition calls for elections after prime minister quits – dpa international


UMNO office in Aloh Setar, regional capital of Kedah state in northern Malaysia (Simon Roughneen)

Malaysia’s opposition parties want parliamentary elections to be held and have rejected the idea of a unity government under Mahathir Mohamad, the 94-year-old who unexpectedly resigned as prime minister on Monday.

“We should go back to the polls and let the people decide,” Annuar Musa, the secretary-general of the biggest opposition party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), said during a Tuesday press conference.

The mostly ethnic Malay opposition parties object to the Democratic Action Party (DAP) – a mostly Chinese-Malaysian organization that filled several key ministries in the government that fell on Monday – being part of any replacement unity administration.

UMNO governed Malaysia as part of the Barisan Nasional/National Front coalition from independence in 1957 until a shock May 2018 election loss to an alliance led by Mahathir in partnership with his former foe Anwar Ibrahim, 72. Najib Razak, the last UMNO prime minister, is on trial over the alleged looting of a state fund while in office.

The elections call came after parties from all sides met Mahathir, who remains as interim prime minister, as well as the country’s king, Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, who is interviewing all 222 members of parliament in a bid to ascertain if any faction has a majority of at least 112 seats.

Mahathir’s Bersatu party quit the four party Pakatan Harapan/Alliance of Hope government on Monday after a weekend of intrigue that prompted Anwar, Mahathir’s designated successor, to accuse allies of betrayal and of trying to form a government with UMNO at his expense. Anwar later backtracked, saying Mahathir was not part of any plot.

The remaining three parties of Anwar’s alliance met on Tuesday evening and said that they control enough seats to form a new government.

“Why should we waste the people’s money to hold a GE [general election] when we can obtain a clear majority?” said Khalid Samad, an alliance lawmaker, speaking to media after the alliance’s meeting.

A small group of student protestors gathered late on Tuesday at a plaza in Kuala Lumpur, condemning attempts to form a “backdoor” government, while Bersih (Clean) 2.0, a prominent non-governmental organization, has said it will organize mass rallies if the 2018 election result is ignored in the formation of a new government.

Malaysia’s attorney-general and prominent lawyers have argued that the political impasse should be resolved when parliament reconvenes on March 9.

While Malaysia’s political parties jostled on Tuesday to try form a new government, the fate of a pivotal economic stimulus package hung in the balance.

Concerns about the twin impacts of the China-US trade war and the deadly coronavirus outbreak prompted Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan/Alliance of Hope government to draft financial proposals that were due to be announced on Thursday.

However the plan has been stalled by the fall of the government. DAP leader Lim Guan Eng, who was finance minister, stated on Tuesday afternoon that Mahathir intended to publish details of the package “at a date to be announced by him.”

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