Malaysia's ensuing political quagmire took on a new twist with interim Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad suggesting a non-partisan government while the Pakatan Harapan coalition, which governed the nation since the 2018 elections, broke ranks to nominate Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leader Anwar Ibrahim to head the government.
This new development keeps Malaysia mired in uncertainty, as it essentially shows a clear split in opinion between Mahathir and his former allies in the government.
To resolve this, analysts said the final solution lies with the Members of Parliament (MPs) to move a vote of confidence when the House convenes, which will determine the continued governance of the country.
Just 30 minutes before Pakatan Harapan’s televised press conference, Mahathir’s speech went live on television and social media appealing for support for his plan to set up a unity government which would “not prioritise political party ideals”.
“I am not sure if my opinion is right or wrong but politics and political parties should be put aside for the moment.
“If this is accepted, I will try to form a non-partisan government [which] only prioritises the nation’s wellbeing. This is what I will do if I am given permission,” he said with a sombre look.
Second-time prime minister Mahathir, 94, who resigned after an alleged botched coup-d’etat by opposition lawmakers from the opposition United Malay National Organisation (Umno) and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), several ruling political party leaders on Monday, apologised for quitting, as well as the chaos and distress that led to the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan coalition government.
“After I quit, I was called by the King who accepted my letter. We discussed for an hour and he asked me to be an interim prime minister,” he said.
Mahathir said there were many reasons why he decided to quit but suffice to say that he received support from all quarters to the point that he could not make a decision.
He said that allegations of him being “power crazy” with no intention of letting go of his post also pushed him to quit.
“I refused to see power and position as the ‘be all and end all’ to my goals. For me, power and position are ‘a means to an end’ or a tool to meet an objective, and that the overall objective should be for betterment of the country,” he said.
Mahathir claimed that he intended to resign to allow Parliament to decide his successor but that he would remain as the prime minister if the House voted for it.
“So there was the intention to change leadership, but because I had the support from both quarters, I felt that it was time for me to quit. I appealed for time but my party [Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia] pulled out of the ruling coalition along with other party members,” he said.
The fact is, Mahathir said, had Bersatu supported PAS and Umno, then the parties that lost in the last general election would set up a new government, and that meant one which would be dominated by Umno, seeing that it held the most number of seats.
“I can accept ex-Umno members but not those who are still in it to form the new government. Politicians prioritise politics that they fail to see that the country is undergoing economic problems,” Mahathir said, admitting that he has also made mistakes before.
Meanwhile, Pakatan Harapan component parties – Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Amanah Nasional (Amanah) and PKR, revealed their support for Anwar, which was a turnaround to their apparent loyalty to Mahathir just a day earlier.
In a statement, the coalition said it had been trying to protect the people’s mandate since the recent attempts to take over the government.
“We do not agree to the formation of a backdoor government which led to Mahathir’s resignation. However, we invited him to chair the coalition meeting in order to restore the government but he refused.
“As such, the council decided to appoint Anwar as the prime minister of the coalition government. We are committed to bring the government to a better level economically, politically and socially. We will not betray this promise,” the statement read.
Having said that, critics say the big issue is whether any of the leaders has enough of a simple majority of 112 seats. If either leader can command that number, it would not have to seek a vote of confidence.
“We have to wait for the King’s decision whether he offers Pakatan Harapan to form the government and time to get support. If it fails, then MPs will move for a vote of confidence. If Anwar cannot get the support, then it could risk snap elections,” said a constitutional lawyer.
At present, Pakatan Harapan possess less than 90 seats after Bersatu left. On the other hand, Mahathir, who himself quit Bersatu – a party he founded in 2016, is expected to garner support from opposition coalition Barisan Nasional component parties, as well as East Malaysian political parties.
Altogether, he can roughly expect support of 120 seats out of 222 Parliamentary seats.