Crisis in Malaysia: On Mahathir Mohamad resignation

A power-hungry Mahathir has pushed Malaysia toward political instability

February 26, 2020 12:02 am | Updated 12:02 am IST

The abrupt resignation of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Monday has triggered the first major political crisis in the country since the 2018 general election and could upturn the reform process initiated by the coalition government. Though the nonagenarian leader has not said why he submitted the resignation even after the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition had reaffirmed its support for his premiership, his decision appears to be a calculated move to prevent handing over power to Anwar Ibrahim, his one-time colleague-turned-nemesis-turned coalition partner. Mr. Mahathir, who was in power from 1981 to 2003, and Mr. Anwar, who had once served in Mr. Mahathir’s cabinet until he was jailed for sodomy in the late 1990s, joined hands prior to the 2018 election to take on the Malay nationalist United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which had ruled the country for six decades. The Pakatan Harapan coalition consisting of nationalist, centrist and ethnic Chinese parties, represented the diversities of the Malaysian society and promised voters a pluralistic, corruption-free government. After the surprise victory, Mr. Mahathir became the Prime Minister again , but with support from both Mr. Anwar’s People’s Justice Party and the Democratic Action Party. The understanding: Mr. Mahathir would form the government and hand over power to Mr. Anwar later.

Also read: Mahathir’s challenge

The source of the crisis is this delicate power-sharing deal. Mr. Mahathir refused to give a firm commitment or timeline to hand over power to Mr. Anwar despite requests from the latter’s party. The coalition was in trouble as a rival bloc within Mr. Anwar’s party had accused him of trying to topple Mr. Mahathir. As the crisis worsened, Mr. Mahathir announced his resignation and his party, the Malaysian United Indigenous Party, quit the coalition. So in effect, the Pakatan Harapan has collapsed. It is not clear what the next moves of Mr. Mahathir and Mr. Anwar will be; neither of them has a majority on their own. A new coalition will need 112 seats for majority in the 222-member Parliament. Mr. Mahathir’s party has only 26 lawmakers. Mr. Anwar’s party had won 50 seats in 2018, but it is not clear now whether he has the support of all his party lawmakers. This means Malaysia is expected to see some dirty political fights in the coming days. And if neither side manages to win a majority, the country will go to the polls. This crisis could have been avoided had the Pakatan Harapan leaders lived up to the promises they made to themselves and to the voters. The coalition government had a promising beginning with a wider representation of minority groups and its bid to root out corruption in a country that is yet to recover from the 1MDB scandal. Ideally, Mr. Mahathir should have honoured the understanding he reached with his partners and allowed the coalition to complete its term. But it does not seem to be his priority any more.

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