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Still uncertainty; talk of unity govt
Published on: Wednesday, February 26, 2020
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PUTRAJAYA: Interim Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (pic) left his first day of work at 5.45pm on Tuesday with the country no closer to escaping its current political turmoil.

The visibly tired 94-year-old did not stop to speak to about 60 media workers who have been waiting outside his office since 8am.

Instead, he shared his usual cheeky smile, followed by a quick wave as he departed for home with a large security detail.

On Tuesday, it was a one-man show for Dr Mahathir in running the Government, after his unexpected resignation on Monday placed the country into unknown territory with no ministers or deputies still in the administration.

He spent the better part of his day meeting political party leaders since clocking in at 9am.

Among them were Gabungan Parti Sarawak’s Datuk Patinggi Abang Openg, Bersatu’s Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, PKR’s Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, DAP’s Lim Guan Eng and Amanah’s Mohamad Sabu.

He also met with PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and will meet with independent MP Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.

In a statement earlier from the Prime Minister’s Office, it is understood Dr Mahathir will clock in as usual today (Wednesday) and is expected to meet with more party leaders, including Warisan President Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal. On Monday, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong accepted Dr Mahathir’s resignation as the seventh Prime Minister, but re-appointed him as the interim PM until a successor is named.

The Agong is interviewing the country’s federal lawmakers to determine who among them commanded the support of the majority needed to become the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, political sources said Dr Mahathir is trying to form a national unity government under his personal authority, drawing together rival parties.

Dr Mahathir proposed the idea of a grand coalition at meetings Tuesday with leaders of major political parties, including Anwar, and those he defeated in the election, four political sources with knowledge of the matter said.

“It appears that Dr Mahathir is poised to form the government,” one source said. 

“There won’t be any political entity. We might be a government of no parties.”

The sources declined to be identified because they were not authorised to speak to media. 

Dr Mahathir’s office made no immediate comment on the plan.

“He is the person most likely to be the next Prime Minister,” said Democratic Action Party parliamentarian Ong Kian Ming.

Parties across the board rallied to say they would support Dr Mahathir’s return as full-time Prime Minister, with Anwar’s the only major party not to offer a public endorsement.

No one has publicly staked a claim to be Prime Minister.

The realignment could give Dr Mahathir greater authority than even during a previous spell as Prime Minister from 1981 until his retirement in 2003, during which he is credited with turning a farming backwater into an industrial nation.

“He has total freedom to decide as he pleases,” said Ibrahim Suffian, director of pollster Merdeka Centre.

Two of the sources said Dr Mahathir’s resignation meant a pre-election promise to hand power to Anwar was no longer valid.

The former medical doctor returned as Prime Minister after the 2018 election defeat of Datuk Seri Najib Razak, ringing down the curtain on more than six decades of rule by the party he had once led.

“Just another day in the office,” Dr Mahathir said on his official Twitter account, accompanied by photographs of him reading papers at the prime ministerial desk.

Malaysia’s constitution provides that any lawmaker who can command a majority in Parliament can stake a claim to form a government, which must then be approved by the King.

The palace said the King would hold individual interviews with all 222 elected Members of Parliament’s lower house on Tuesday and today (Wednesday), to assess who was likely to succeed.

Lawmakers leaving the palace said they been given a form on which to indicate their choice of Prime Minister, or whether they would prefer parliament to be dissolved.

The political crisis comes at a particularly bad time for the Malaysian economy, after growth fell to a decade low in last year’s final quarter.

The stock market recovered slightly on Tuesday from an eight-year low hit the previous day, while the currency also rose after having hit its lowest in nearly six months.

Dr Mahathir had been due to unveil on Thursday a stimulus package to soften the economic fallout from a coronavirus outbreak.

Dr Mahathir and Anwar formed the Pakatan Harapan coalition to defeat the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and its Barisan Nasional alliance in 2018.

Anwar had been Dr Mahathir’s deputy before the latter arrested and jailed him in the late 1990s for sodomy and corruption, charges that Anwar and his supporters maintain were aimed at ending his political career. 


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