You are here

Malaysia's turmoil deepens with Mahathir's fate in doubt

Lawmakers blast him for asking parliament to vote on a new leader, saying the move disrespects the monarch

BT_20200229_MSIA_4048182.jpg
Dr Mahathir said this week he would return to power if enough lawmakers back him, and wants to build a "government that doesn't side with any party".

Kuala Lumpur

UNCERTAINTY grew over the political fate of Malaysia's 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad on Friday, after the royal palace rejected a plan for selecting a new prime minister and his party dropped him as its candidate for the premiership. They chose his next-in-line Muhyiddin Yassin instead.

Dr Mahathir had said on Thursday that there would be a vote in parliament on March 2 for a new prime minister, but the palace announced after a meeting of the country's nine sultans that there would be no such special sitting.

"The palace will continue to engage with leaders of political parties for their lawmakers to voice their preferred candidate for prime minister," the palace said in a statement.

"The king will continue to strive to find a solution in accordance with the constitution, in the interests of the people and country," said the statement from royal official Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin.

The announcement dealt a major blow to the strategy of Dr Mahathir, who has long had a difficult relationship with the country's royals; he had sought to curb their powers during his first stint as premier from 1981 to 2003.

It also drew the ire of lawmakers from across the political spectrum, who blasted him for calling on parliament to vote on a new leader, saying the move disrespected the country's monarch.

Parliament would not convene the special meeting on Monday as the announcement by the premier breached procedure, house speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof said in a statement. The meeting should only be called after a decree from the king, he said.

Dr Mahathir, appointed as acting prime minister after his resignation on Monday, had said on Thursday that parliament's vote was needed after the king failed to find any candidate able to win majority support during two days of consultations with the 222 elected members of parliament. He added that snap elections will have to take place if no candidate is found.

PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim said the king has the power to choose a prime minister based on whomever he thinks is most likely to be able to form a government.

Mr Anwar's Pakatan Harapan coalition said on Friday that he should be given the chance to speak to the king to convince him that he had the numbers to win a majority in government.

But Umno and Islamist party PAS swung support behind the candidate put forward by Dr Mahathir's Bersatu party for prime minister: 72-year-old former interior minister Muhyiddin, identified by Dr Mahathir as a potential successor. With their support, Mr Muhyiddin has the backing to about 96 members of parliament.

Mr Anwar has the support of about 92 lawmakers from his coalition. A candidate needs 112 out of 222 lawmakers to form the next government

Dr Mahathir said this week he would return to power if enough lawmakers back him, and wants to build a "government that doesn't side with any party". A so-called "unity government" is proving difficult for Dr Mahathir to assemble. Alliances are shifting among a range of political parties divided largely on racial and religious lines. REUTERS, AFP, BLOOMBERG