Mahathir explains why he resigned, and is ready to stay on

He wants to form a unity govt but is against his party joining hands with PAS and Umno

A live television broadcast of interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's special address to the nation yesterday. In his speech, he apologised to Malaysians twice for the ongoing political turmoil in the country.
A live television broadcast of interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's special address to the nation yesterday. In his speech, he apologised to Malaysians twice for the ongoing political turmoil in the country.PHOTO: BERNAMA

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad broke his silence on the ongoing political turmoil in a nationally televised address yesterday, giving his explanation for his shock resignation as prime minister, while also making clear he is prepared to stay on.

With rumours swirling that the 94-year-old, appointed interim Prime Minister after his resignation, might be announcing that he would completely step aside ahead of his address at 4.45pm, Dr Mahathir stressed that the time had not yet come.

"I did not think it was time for me to resign as I believed that I was supported by both sides," he said.

Instead, he confirmed talk that he wanted to form a unity government made up of individuals who will set aside party politics.

"Politicians and political parties prioritise politics too much until they forget about the country, which is facing economic and health problems," he said.

But a day earlier, long-time foes from both sides of Malaysia's political divide had already said they would not work with each other.

The ongoing crisis was sparked when leaders of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, including those from Dr Mahathir's own Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), decided to join hands with opposition parties to call for Dr Mahathir to stay in power until the next election instead of handing over power mid-term to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim as agreed prior to PH winning the May 2018 election.

This led to the collapse of the ruling coalition and days of frenzied horse-trading, as different sides tried to cobble together the 112 lawmakers needed to form a majority in Parliament. Amid the chaos, Dr Mahathir resigned, only to be appointed interim Prime Minister by Malaysia's King.

On his decision to step down, Dr Mahathir said: "I resigned because I did not want power and the position to be the be all and end all of my intentions. To me, power and position are a means to an end... And our objective is the good of the country."

He added: "Actually, I promised to resign to give the Dewan Rakyat (Lower House) an opportunity to decide who is to replace me. If it is true that I am supported, I will return. If not, I will accept anyone who is chosen. The opportunity to change leadership is always there."

Dr Mahathir also made clear that he was against the idea of his party forming a new coalition government by joining hands with opposition parties PAS and Umno after it decided to leave the PH coalition.

FOR THE GOOD OF THE COUNTRY

I resigned because I did not want power and the position to be the be all and end all of my intentions. To me, power and position are a means to an end or an instrument to achieve an objective. And our objective is the good of the country.

Because of that, I decided to resign as I saw that for the politicians, what was most important is which party ruled, whether it won or lost.

Actually, I promised to resign to give the Dewan Rakyat (Lower House) an opportunity to decide who is to replace me. If it is true that I am supported, I will return. If not, I will accept anyone who is chosen.

The opportunity to change leadership is always there. Only I am of the opinion that since I was supported by both sides, the time has not come for me to step down.

TUN DR MAHATHIR MOHAMAD

He said: "I asked for more time, but my party Bersatu decided to leave the Pakatan Harapan coalition. There were also members from other component parties who left. With such actions, the Pakatan Harapan government collapsed.

"The consequence was if Bersatu supported PAS and Umno, then the parties that lost (the 2018 General Election) would be the ones forming the government. The government will then be dominated by Umno as the biggest party."

"I am prepared to accept Umno members who have left Umno and joined other parties. But Umno will be part of a unity government as Umno. This I could not accept," Dr Mahathir added.

He also apologised twice to Malaysians for the political mess.

"As a normal human being, I am not safe from making mistakes. I apologise if my resignation was wrong," he said.

"I am not looking for popularity. I am only doing something that I think is good for the country."

• Additional reporting by Hazlin Hassan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2020, with the headline 'Mahathir explains why he resigned, and is ready to stay on'. Print Edition | Subscribe