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Malaysia political turmoil: Search for new government continues as King meets 132 MPs in second day of interviews

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 a grand coalition across the political spectrum.


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Updated: February 26, 2020

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong continues the search for Malaysia’s new government on Wednesday (Feb 26) by interviewing 132 MPs to see whether they back interim premier Mahathir Mohamad to continue leading the country.

This will complete interviews of all 222 parliamentarians after those from the opposition were asked on Tuesday who they wanted as prime minister, or if they preferred a snap election.

Those heading to the palace on Wednesday are from the now collapsed Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.

The Straits Times understands that those still in the coalition agreed in a meeting on Tuesday night to collectively support the return of Tun Mahathir who resigned the position on Monday, and reject the need for polls less than two years after they ended six decades of Umno rule.

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 a grand coalition across the political spectrum instead of trying to band together parties with diverse ideologies.

But already, the Umno-led Barisan Nasional pact and PAS said in a joint press conference after their audience on Tuesday they would not enter a government if it included the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a Chinese-dominated outfit they accuse of undermining Malay Muslim interests, and in such a situation would prefer to head to the ballot.

Umno secretary general Annuar Musa had also said they rejected the move to form government via a majority of individuals, instead of parties, as this ran contrary to Malaysia’s principles of parliamentary democracy.

His leadership of the PH government since May 2018 has been hemmed in by ethnocentric criticism, especially from Malaysia’s two largest Malay Muslim parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

Already, the Umno-led Barisan Nasional pact and PAS said after their audience on Tuesday they would not enter a government if it included the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a Chinese-dominated outfit they accuse of undermining Malay Muslim interests, and in such a situation would prefer to head to the ballot.

DAP sources also told The Straits Times that it would lose its legitimacy if it worked with “corrupt and extremist” leaders from Umno and PAS. It is understood that other PH partners Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Parti Amanah Negara are of the same view.

Meanwhile, PKR would likely baulk at the prospect of reconciling with sacked deputy president Azmin Ali, who exited with 10 MPs following his expulsion for allegedly betraying PH by trying to undo the agreed transition of power from Dr Mahathir to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Datuk Seri Azmin was a key figure in the so-called National Alliance, which on Sunday brought together pro-Mahathir leaders in PH and opposition parties to call for the 94-year-old to stay in power for the full term instead of handing the reins to PKR president Anwar.

But Dr Mahathir did not accept the mandate, with sources saying he refused to accept Umno into his government, and resigned not just as premier, but also as chairman of his own Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), whose president Muhyiddin Yassin was also a key proponent of the National Alliance.

Dr Mahathir instead mooted plans for a unity government in meetings with party chiefs and Mr Azmin on Tuesday morning, and is scheduled to present the same to Sabah chief minister Shafie Apdal, who heads the eastern state’s Warisan party, later on Wednesday.

It is unclear what the King will do after completing his poll of MPs. But if Dr Mahathir has the majority support, as expected, he could swear the elder statesman back as prime minister, and allow the latter to form a government of his choice from among those that support him.

So far, practically all major parties have said they want Dr Mahathir to be in charge, but some, like Umno and PAS, will do so conditionally.



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About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

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