Mahathir offers resignation in Malaysian political upheaval

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad tendered his resignation to Malaysia’s king on Monday while his political party quit the ruling alliance, in a shocking political upheaval less than two years after his election victory.

The prime minister’s office said in a brief statement that Mahathir, 94, submitted his resignation to the palace at 1 p.m. but gave no further details. Mahathir also quit as chairman of his ruling Bersatu party.

The stunning turn of events come amid plans by Mahathir’s supporters to team with opposition parties to form a new government and thwart the transition of power to his named successor, Anwar Ibrahim.

Minutes before his resignation was offered, Bersatu said it would leave the four-party Alliance of Hope and support Mahathir as the prime minister. Eleven other lawmakers, including several Cabinet ministers, also announced they are quitting Anwar’s party to form an independent bloc.

The withdrawal of more than three dozen lawmakers means the ruling alliance has lost its majority in Parliament, throwing the country into an uncertain future and sparking fears of more turmoil over how the political drama will play out.

Opinions are divided on whether Mahathir is quitting for good or making a tactical move to buy time to cobble together a new majority to form a government.

King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who met Bersatuand several other leaderson Sunday, met with Anwar on Monday afternoon and has summoned Mahathir to the palace. Analysts said the king could decide on which faction has the support or dissolve Parliament for snap elections.

The political drama unraveled Sunday with maneuvers aimed at keeping Mahathir in power and thwarting Anwar, replaying their decades-old feud. Anwar was Mahathir’s deputy during Mahathir’s first stint as prime minister but fell out politically before reuniting in the political pact that ousted a corruption-tainted government in the May 2018 election. Mahathir has refused to set a date to relinquish power despite a pre-election agreement to hand over power to Anwar.

Anwar confirmed late Sunday that there were attempts by some Bersatu members and “traitors” from his party to form a new government in a “betrayal” of their political pact. He called it a “small trial,” saying he has overcome harder times. He even joked that while he may not be Malaysia’s eighth prime minister, he could be the ninth.

Anwar and several alliance leaders met Mahathir at the prime minister’s residence on Monday. Anwar later told reporters that he was satisfied with the meeting, at which Mahathir insisted that the reform agenda must continue and indicated he wouldn’t bow down to those attempting to grab power.

Ironically, the maneuvers would restore to power the Malay party of disgraced former leader Najib Razak, who with several of his party leaders are standing trial for corruption. It would also propel to national power a fundamentalist Islamic party that rules two states and champions Islamic laws. The two Malay parties still have strong support from ethnic Malays, who account for 60 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million people.

Mahathir has remained silent so far. Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, who heads another party in Anwar’s alliance, said Mahathir had quit as prime minister and Bersatu chairman to object “this nefarious attempt to subvert and undermine the people’s mandate” to their alliance.

Lim, who was among those who met Mahathir with Anwar, said in a statement that Mahathir had clearly stated that he cannot work with Najib’s Malay party, which he had worked so hard to oust in the 2018 polls. Lim said his party will propose at an alliance emergency meeting Monday night that Mahathir continue as prime minister to deliver the reformist agenda.

Many Malaysians have reacted with dismay and shock on social media, saying moves to form a “backdoor” government would be unethical and that a new election should be called if the ruling alliance collapses.

Analysts warned that such a new government could give rise to Malay Islamic supremacy that would derail Malaysia’s multi-ethnic society.

“If the new government goes through, Malaysia is heading toward a a very regressive stage whereby racial supremacy and religious extremism would become the rule of the day,” said Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

FILE – In this Feb. 22, 2020, file photo, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, speaks during a press conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia. Malaysia’s alliance government under 94-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir is threatening to unravel less than two years after a historic election victory ousting the coalition that had ruled the country since independence.(AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
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