Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's exit from Umno on Monday was no mere strop after failing to force Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak out of office.
He has now signalled that he is ready to work with the opposition to achieve this aim, a big shift in position for the strongman who fought the opposition tooth and nail, and jailed many opposition leaders, in his 22 years as prime minister until 2003.
Dr Mahathir on Monday said he is now looking for a "core group" of leaders with the same objective of forcing Datuk Seri Najib out of office.
Mr Lim Kit Siang, parliamentary leader of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the biggest opposition party, confirmed yesterday that such discussions had been carried out with Dr Mahathir in the weeks prior to his resignation from Umno on Monday.
"I have met and discussed with Mahathir on the current national situation," Mr Lim said, calling the event an "encouraging development" in solving the "national cul-de-sac".
PKR vice-president Chua Tian Chang told The Straits Times that Dr Mahathir mentioned he had secured the commitment of 40 different leaders but did not mention specific names. "Basically, they are the 'usual suspects'," said Mr Chua, referring to top opposition leaders and those in Umno sidelined by Mr Najib.
Sources told The Straits Times that the 90-year-old statesman had also met dozens of leaders from various parties. The top opposition leaders who met Dr Mahathir included Parti Islam SeMalaysia president Abdul Hadi Awang and his deputy, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng as well as Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) deputy president Azmin Ali.
PKR vice-president Chua Tian Chang told The Straits Times that Dr Mahathir mentioned he had secured the commitment of 40 different leaders but did not mention specific names.
"Basically, they are the 'usual suspects'," said Mr Chua, referring to top opposition leaders and those in Umno sidelined by Mr Najib.
Dr Mahathir quit Umno on Monday, saying it has become "Najib's party". He had quit the party in 2008 to shock the party into ousting then Premier Abdullah Badawi. He rejoined Umno when Mr Najib became prime minister.
Among those allied to Dr Mahathir are former law minister Zaid Ibrahim as well as Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, two Umno leaders who were sacked from the Cabinet last July. Mr Muhyiddin said yesterday he would decide tomorrow whether to remain in Umno.
Datuk Zaid has suggested March 27 as a date for the broad anti-Najib front to discuss how it would go about achieving its aim.
It is not clear if this "core group" would campaign together and what would happen should Mr Najib be toppled.
Umno leaders involved could be expected to want the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition to continue controlling the government.
But this would leave the opposition supporting a regime it has accused of wide-ranging abuses. "It is implied that there will be a power- sharing agreement," a source familiar with the discussions told The Straits Times.
In a joint statement yesterday, PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the DAP's Mr Lim Guan Eng and Amanah president Mohamad Sabu said institutional reforms must be carried out. They also said jailed opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim should be released.
Another issue under discussion is how the "core group" plans to depose Mr Najib in the first place.
His hold on Umno looks unshakeable and his BN coalition has a healthy 132 MPs out of the 222 in the federal Parliament - if Mr Muhyiddin and Mr Shafie are included. The opposition has 87 seats, and there are three independent MPs.
It means that the three independent MPs and another 22 MPs from BN must jump ship to support a no-confidence vote in the House.
This is almost impossible because the BN MPs must be persuaded to share power with the opposition and release Anwar, who caused BN big vote losses in the 2008 and 2013 general elections.
Umno leaders have so far been indifferent to the resignation of Dr Mahathir, as they know their supporters are unlikely to be swayed by the statesman openly working with the Chinese-led DAP.