KUALA LUMPUR: In a shock move, Dr Mahathir Mohamad resigned as Malaysia’s prime minister on Monday (Feb 24), while quitting as chairman of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).
His resignation was accepted by the king, who later appointed Dr Mahathir as interim prime minister.
Meanwhile, there is a flurry of activity among the various political parties. Some have pledged support for Dr Mahathir to serve out his full term. Others claim they have the numbers to form a new government.
Here’s what we know about what has transpired so far:
EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE RESIGNATION
The issue of power transition has been repeatedly brought up since Dr Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan (PH) formed the new government after defeating Barisan Nasional in the May 2018 general election.
PH had reached a consensus for Dr Mahathir to serve as prime minister following the shock victory and for Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s (PKR) Anwar Ibrahim to take over at a later date.
Mr Anwar was Dr Mahathir's deputy prime minister during the latter's first term in office, until he was sacked in 1998 and later jailed on what he said were trumped-up charges of corruption and sodomy.
He was thrown into jail again for a second sodomy conviction in 2015 and was granted a royal pardon after PH won the 2018 polls.
While Dr Mahathir has reiterated that he would honour his promise to pass the baton to Mr Anwar, the handover has become an issue of contention with different groups within PH holding different opinions on when it should happen.
As PH’s two-year anniversary in federal power neared, PKR politicians aligned to Mr Anwar grew more vocal in asking the coalition to fix a transition date.
Meanwhile, PKR politicians in Mr Azmin Ali’s camp have openly supported Dr Mahathir to serve out his full term.
The topic was the main agenda of a PH presidential council meeting last Friday, which ended with Dr Mahathir saying that he should decide when he would step down and Mr Anwar giving him the full support to carry out his duties.
A surprising turn of events ensued on Sunday when Mr Azmin's faction in PKR and Bersatu had an audience with the Malaysian king together with four other political parties not in the PH coalition.
This intensified the speculation that Bersatu, as well as Mr Azmin’s supporters, were leaving PH and looking to form a new ruling coalition.
Later that night, Mr Anwar noted that he has been betrayed by his coalition partners.
RESIGNATION, THEN APPOINTMENT AS INTERIM PM
On Monday morning, Mr Anwar, together with Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) president Mohamad Sabu, held talks with Dr Mahathir.
In the afternoon, a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said that a letter of resignation has been delivered to the king at 1pm. No other details were included in the statement.
Bersatu also announced that it has quit PH, while Mr Azmin and 10 other lawmakers declared their departure from PKR. This effectively meant that PH would no longer have a majority in the 222-seat parliament.
Later in the afternoon, Mr Anwar and DAP said Dr Mahathir played no role in the attempt to create a new coalition.
Mr Anwar said: “I think this was not him (Dr Mahathir) because his name was used. Those within my party and outside (are) using his name. He reiterated what he had said to me earlier - he played no part in it.”
DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said Dr Mahathir decided to resign as an objection to the "nefarious attempt to subvert and undermine the people’s mandate given to PH".
On Monday evening, Dr Mahathir had an audience with the king, who accepted his resignation. However, the king also appointed Dr Mahathir as interim prime minister.
In his interim role, Dr Mahathir will manage the country’s administration until a new prime minister is chosen and the Cabinet is formed.
Malaysian media reported on Tuesday that Dr Mahathir was working in his office in Putrajaya. Various political figures were seen heading to his office.
WHO IS WITH DR MAHATHIR?
Almost all major political parties have declared their support for Dr Mahathir.
DAP, which has 42 seats in parliament, said it intends to propose for Dr Mahathir to continue serving as prime minister.
Mr Anwar of PKR, now with 39 seats in parliament, said he had appealed to Dr Mahathir against resigning.
Bersatu has rejected Dr Mahathir’s resignation as party chairman and said it will support him as prime minister. It has 26 seats in the House.
Amanah, with 11 seats, and Mr Azmin’s bloc, also said that they are with Dr Mahathir.
Meanwhile, Borneo-based Parti Warisan Sabah and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), who hold more 25 parliamentary seats combined, said that they support Dr Mahathir. However, GPS does not want to work DAP.
UMNO and PAS, who command more than 55 seats in parliament together, have previously expressed broad support for Dr Mahathir’s leadership. However, both parties are against DAP.
Meanwhile, Mr Anwar and Mr Lim noted on Monday that Dr Mahathir does not want to work with UMNO.
Is a general election on the cards? It would appear not.
Mr Malik Imtiaz, a constitutional, administrative and human rights lawyer told CNA that polls will only be called if neither of the coalitions have the minimum majority of MPs required to govern.
"Only if there is no clear support one way or the other, the numbers are too close or they aren't able to form a majority, this might result in elections being called," he said.
The king said on Tuesday that he will personally interview all MPs to ascertain who should be the country’s next prime minister.
Under the constitution, the king shall appoint a prime minister to preside over the Cabinet, and this MP is, in the king’s judgment, likely to command the confidence of the majority of the MPs.
In this regard, it appears that Dr Mahathir has options in terms of deciding who to work with to form a new government.