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Malaysia's opposition parties call for elections

Malaysia's opposition parties on Tuesday called for elections and declined to support any unity government under interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Kuala Lumpur

MALAYSIA'S opposition parties on Tuesday called for elections and declined to support any unity government under interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

"We are calling for parliament to be dissolved and let the people decide," Annuar Musa, a member of the United Malays National Organisation told a joint news conference with three other opposition parties. "Anything that goes against established principles invites instability."

Dr Mahathir is trying to form a national unity government under his personal authority, drawing together rival parties, political sources said on Tuesday, following his shock resignation as prime minister.

The world's oldest government leader at 94, Dr Mahathir stepped down on Monday, but Malaysia's king immediately named him interim prime minister, which lets him retain the authority of a permanent leader.

The king has also begun meeting all members of parliament to decide the next prime minister, Reuters reported a palace official as saying on Tuesday.

Under Malaysia's constitution, any lawmaker who can command a majority in parliament can stake a claim to form a government, which must then be approved by the king.

The palace said the king would hold individual interviews with all 222 elected members of the lower house of parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday, to assess who was likely to succeed. The MPs were given a choice - to name the candidate for the eighth prime minister, or to opt for parliament's dissolution.

While those plans are underway, Dr Mahathir proposed the idea of a grand coalition at meetings on Tuesday with leaders of major political parties, including PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim and those he defeated in the election, four political sources with knowledge of the matter said.

"It appears that Mahathir is poised to form the government," one source said. "The plan now is for a non-partisan unity government."

The sources declined to be identified because they were not authorised to speak to media. Dr Mahathir's office made no immediate comment on the plan.

Parties across the board rallied to say they would support Dr Mahathir's return as full-time prime minister, with Mr Anwar's the only major party not to offer a public endorsement.

Singapore is monitoring the political developments across the Causeway closely, and it will respect the decision of the Malaysian leaders and work with the government of the day, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Tuesday.

Mr Heng was responding to a question from reporters on developments in Malaysia, following a visit to Parkroyal on Kitchener Road Hotel. He noted that the situation in was evolving rapidly. "It is a domestic matter, and I hope that the various parties will come to some agreement expeditiously," he added.

He said Malaysia is Singapore's closest neighbour and both countries have many joint projects in the works. Mr Heng, who is also finance minister, also hoped both neighbours can work together in dealing with the important changes going on in the global economy, to strengthen their economies.