Malaysia's Mahathir seeks unity government as Anwar vies for power

  • >> Reuters
    Published: 2020-02-26 16:28:04 BdST

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Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad called on Wednesday for a unity government without political parties after his shock resignation as prime minister sparked turmoil.

But old rival Anwar Ibrahim’s supporters said he had also been put forward as premier.

The struggle between Mahathir, 94, and Anwar, 72, who formed a surprise pact to win a 2018 election, has shaped politics in the Southeast Asian country for more than two decades and is at the root of the latest crisis.

Mahathir, the world’s oldest head of government, resigned on Monday but was immediately named by the king as interim prime minister. In his first address since then, Mahathir apologised for the turmoil but said he was ready to return as prime minister full time if he had support.

“Politics and political parties need to be put aside for now,” Mahathir said in a televised message. “I propose a government that is not aligned with any party, but only prioritises the interests of the country.”

To try to end the crisis, the king has been meeting all 222 elected members of parliament over two days. Those in the meetings said they were asked to name their favoured prime minister or whether they wanted fresh elections.

The members of Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), or the People’s Justice Party, said that his name had been submitted to the king. The party has 39 seats and alliance partners could potentially give it another 62.

THE KING’S DECISION

Anwar did not comment on whether or not he had been nominated.

“God willing, everything goes well,” he told reporters after meeting the king. “The discretion is the prerogative of the king. So I will leave it entirely to his discretion and wisdom.”

While some politicians have openly voiced support for Mahathir to stay in office, it was not clear whether enough of them would give him their backing.

The volatile relationship between Anwar and Mahathir helped prompt the latest crisis after Mahathir resisted pressure to set a date for a promised transfer of power to Anwar made ahead of the 2018 election.

As well as personal relationships, politics in Malaysia is shaped by a tangle of ethnic and religious interests. The largely Muslim country of 32 million is more than half ethnic Malay, but has large ethnic Chinese, Indian and other minorities.

A unity government cutting across party lines could give Mahathir greater authority than during a spell as prime minister from 1981 until his retirement in 2003.