Mahathir denies claim he was behind move to form Perikatan Nasional coalition

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad stressed that he would not team up with "kleptocrats" in the Umno leadership. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad on Monday (Nov 30) denied a claim that he was behind the move in February to form the new Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition with Malay parties from both sides of the aisle, reiterating that he would not team up with "kleptocrats" in the Umno leadership.

Senior Minister for Economy Azmin Ali made the claim in an interview published in The Star on Sunday, during which he also "revealed" that Tun Dr Mahathir was meant to remain as prime minister with PN.

"I have repeatedly explained that it's untrue because PN is made up of kleptocrats and is backed by Umno enbloc. If I were the one who planned it, why am I against it ... and if I had accepted it, I would've definitely remained as the prime minister as claimed by Azmin," the former prime minister said in a statement.

Dr Mahathir added that it was Datuk Seri Azmin who hatched the plan to leave the then ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition to form a new government with Umno, and to further his ambition of eventually becoming prime minister.

"If there was anyone who had earnestly planned to form PN and exit PH, it would have definitely been Azmin and Muhyiddin, who had gained the most. Don't forget, when all this was happening, Azmin's position in Keadilan and PH were under threat," he said, referring to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Azmin's former party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

After the collapse of the PH government, Tan Sri Muhyiddin was appointed prime minister on March 1 and he continues to lead the PN administration albeit with a slim majority in Parliament.

Mr Azmin, meanwhile, was appointed a senior minister and was widely seen as the defacto deputy prime minister.

Recalling the events leading up to the fall of PH, Dr Mahathir said Mr Azmin was at risk of losing his place in the PKR leadership hierarchy after a video of him purportedly engaging in a homosexual affair went viral and his relationship with party president, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, deteriorated to the point that it became "untenable".

"Anwar openly supported Rafizi in going up against Azmin for the post of deputy president, and when that failed, a video subsequently emerged connecting Azmin with sexually immoral acts. Due to that, (and) although I was against Azmin planning the 'Sheraton Move', I can understand why he did it," said Tun Dr Mahathir.

Mr Rafizi Ramli is regarded as Mr Anwar's right-hand man and was PKR's former vice-president.

"This is because to him (Azmin), the most important thing is to block Anwar from becoming PM. If PH were to continue to rule, it is a sure thing that Anwar would have had the chance of becoming PM," Dr Mahathir said, adding that he was convinced that Mr Azmin had been planning the formation of the PN for some time.

In the interview, Mr Azmin claimed Dr Mahathir was meant to remain as prime minister with the new coalition, which was to include Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), as well as then opposition parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS). The plan did not have the explicit approval of Bersatu's allies in PH - PKR, the Democratic Action Party and Parti Amanah Negara.

He said that support for Dr Mahathir was presented to the palace on Feb 23, in the form of 131 statutory declarations from lawmakers of various parties. A simple majority of 112 MPs is needed to form the government.

Dr Mahathir, however, unexpectedly resigned as prime minister the day later, on Feb 24. The PH government subsequently collapsed when dozens of MPs from Bersatu and PKR, led by Mr Muhyiddin and Mr Azmin, left and later formed PN.

PH defeated Umno and its allies in the Barisan Nasional at the historic May 2018 general election, ending their six-decade rule of the country.

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