KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Former prime minister Najib Razak and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi were both conspicuously absent from the opening of Malaysia's Parliament on Monday (March 11).
Najib did not attend because he was at the Court of Appeal for the hearing of applications relating to criminal charges against him.
However, lawmakers of former ruling party Umno were dumbfounded over Ahmad Zahid's failure to turn up for the first day of the Dewan Rakyat sitting, which was opened by the King.
Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob could not give a reason for the Umno president's absence.
"I have no idea why he (Ahmad Zahid) did not turn up," he said.
Umno vice-president and Padang Terap MP Mahdzir Khalid said, "He didn't come and couldn't be contacted."
Like Najib, former deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid faces dozens of charges, including criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering relating to millions of ringgit.
He went on leave last December, after several Umno MPs resigned from the party, with others threatening to follow suit following criticism of his leadership.
Umno deputy president Mohamad Hassan is acting party president.
Ahmad Zahid has also stepped down as Parliament opposition chief, a post which will be officially taken over by Datuk Seri Ismail on Tuesday.
Separately, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad likened the recent political cooperation between opposition parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) to a marriage, when speaking to reporters after the opening of Parliament on Monday.
PAS and Umno are free to form any form of alliance as this is a democratic country, said Tun Dr Mahathir.
"Let them be, if they want to unite, then let them unite. If they want to marry, then kahwin (marry) lah," he remarked.
He added: "We are a free country. If (a man) wants to marry another man, it is not allowed yet. In other countries, maybe can."
Asked if his ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition is concerned that more seats would fall to Umno and PAS after the parties worked together to win two recent by-elections, Dr Mahathir merely said: "We will see."
These by-election victories have been attributed to a shift in the Malay vote away from PH to support Umno and PAS.
Dr Mahathir reiterated that PH also looks after the interest of the Malays.
"Except that we don't shout. They (the opposition) try to separate the Malays from the other races - that is very bad for a multiracial country," he said.