Mahathir, Anwar stake claims to run Malaysia amid political turmoil
KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s veteran leaders Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim staked their claims to helm the country on Wednesday (Feb 26), even as neither of them appeared to have garnered support from a majority of lawmakers in Parliament.
In his first public comments since the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government collapsed on Monday, interim Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir said he was seeking to form a unity government from across the political divide.
Apologising for the current political turmoil, Dr Mahathir, in his first public address since the crisis began, said: “My view, whether right or wrong, is that politics and party politics must be set aside for now. If permitted, I will try to have an administration that does not lean towards any party. Only the national interest will be prioritised.”
Moments after Dr Mahathir’s televised address, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Datuk Seri Anwar told a media conference he has the backing of 92 MPs from the three PH parties – PKR, Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) to be the next Prime Minister.
However, that is still short of a simple majority of 112 needed to form a government.
“The Pakatan Harapan presidential council had invited Dr Mahathir to chair its meeting on Tuesday to restore the PH government but he did not agree to attend the meeting,” said Mr Anwar. “As such, the council decided to nominate Anwar Ibrahim as PH’s prime minister candidate.”
PH parties had earlier pledged their support for Dr Mahathir to remain as premier but they walked back on their pledge after the leader wanted to form a non-partisan unity government that will include lawmakers from PH as well as rivals Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
“Effectively, it is a Mahathir government and not a PH government. The promises of the PH manifesto will not be fulfilled,” DAP assistant national publicity secretary Yeo Bee Yin said on her Facebook late on Wednesday.
The power struggle between Dr Mahathir, 94, and Mr Anwar, 72, former foes who formed a surprise pact to win the 2018 General Election, has shaped politics in the country for more than two decades and is at the root of the latest crisis.
Dr Mahathir who is Malaysia’s seventh premier, resigned on Monday following the collapse of the PH government after members of his own Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and some PKR rebels allied themselves with the opposition.
However, he was reappointed interim prime minister by Malaysia’s King, until the political impasse can be resolved.
With both sides having their own plans, all eyes are now on the King’s next move.
The King has been meeting all 222 MPs since Tuesday to determine who commands the numbers to form Malaysia’s new government. The one-on-one interviews were scheduled to conclude on Wednesday.
If neither Dr Mahathir nor Mr Anwar can command a clear majority, the King could dissolve Parliament, on the advice of the prime minister. This would automatically trigger a general election.
Alternatively, the King can also wait for the MPs to further realign themselves.
The unprecedented move for the King to interview MPs individually instead of meeting party leaders appears to be in line with Dr Mahathir’s plan to form the grand coalition of individuals across the political spectrum.
But already, the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) pact and PAS have said that they would not enter a government if it included the DAP, a Chinese-dominated outfit they accuse of undermining Malay-Muslim interests, and in such a situation would prefer to head to the ballot box.
BN, PAS, PPBM and an independent bloc led by former PKR deputy president Azmin Ali control 97 seats between them.
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