KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad tendered his resignation to Malaysia’s king 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.
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 premier. Shortly after in another surprising announcement, Bersatu said it also received Mahathir’s letter to resign as party chairman. 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.
Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who met Bersatu and several other leaders on Sunday, met 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 premier 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 preelection agreement to hand over power to Anwar.
Anwar confirmed late Sunday there were attempts by some Bersatu members and “traitors” from his party to form a new government in a â€œbetrayal” of their political pact. But he was calm and called it a a â€œsmall trial,â€ 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 premier’s residence on Monday. Anwar later told reporters that he was satisfied with the meeting where Mahathir insisted 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 Malysia’s 32 million people.
Mahathir has remained silent as many Malaysians reacted with dismay and shock on social media, saying moves to form a â€œbackdoor” 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 will derail Malaysia’s multiethnic society.
â€œIf 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.