PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The group of five former Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) MPs led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has declared it would remain as an independent bloc ahead of Parliament meeting next week.
According to a joint statement, they said they decided to remain as independents as they are sticking with the group's earlier decision to support Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal as prime minister, not Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
It said this was because nominating Mr Shafie as a candidate for premier is a positive step in improving relations between Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysian states.
Parti Warisan Sabah leader Shafie Apdal, Sabah's Chief Minister, 63, is backed by Tun Dr Mahathir after a bitter tussle between Dr Mahathir and Mr Anwar for prime ministership.
Mr Anwar initially did not have the support of his Pakatan Harapan (PH) allies - Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara - which had backed Dr Mahathir instead. Mr Anwar's PKR, meanwhile, had refused to endorse Dr Mahathir.
PH had on Monday (July 6) reaffirmed Mr Anwar as its prime minister candidate, but conceded that it would need to continue talks with other parties, including rival candidate Shafie, in order to return to power.
On Friday (July 10) Dr Mahathir's group in a joint statement said nominating Mr Shafie as prime minister "is a positive step that needs to be taken."
Dr Mahathir signed the joint statement with his son Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, Simpang Renggam MP Maszlee Malik, Kubang Pasu MP Amiruddin Hamzah, and Sri Gading MP Shahruddin Md Salleh.
"Not only do we believe he has the ability to garner majority support, but it is also a step forward to improve relations between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak.
"We also decided to remain with Warisan (Parti Warisan Sabah) as an independent bloc inside and outside of Parliament, " according to the statement.
"We are not joining any coalitions," the statement said.
"We are against any efforts to replace the Speaker and we will go ahead with the no confidence motion against Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who formed a government that wasn't chosen by the people," the statement said, referring to the government's attempt to replace Speaker Ariff Yusuf at the sitting on Monday (July 13), which would require a vote in Parliament.
"We still prioritise our initial struggles which is rejecting the return of a kleptocratic government, " said Dr Mahathir, who is Langkawi's MP.
PH was ousted from government in late February after about 40 lawmakers left the pact, depriving it of a majority in Parliament. These MPs, led by Mr Muhyiddin, went on to form the ruling alliance Perikatan Nasional (PN) together with the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition, Parti Islam SeMalaysia and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) - and with Mr Muhyiddin as Prime Minister.
Dr Mahathir, who was former Bersatu chairman, said that Mr Shafie's candidacy was decided following several meetings between the six MPs.
"Although the Pakatan Harapan presidential council has named Anwar as the prime minister candidate, it doesn't involve me and my friends from Bersatu, as well as Warisan.
"We are still holding on to the suggestion made following a meeting between me and leaders from Warisan, Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) and DAP on June 25."
During that meeting on June 25, Dr Mahathir said Amanah and DAP had proposed Mr Shafie's name as prime minister candidate, with Mr Anwar and Mr Mukhriz serving as his deputies.
Dr Mahathir said the former Bersatu MPs agreed to that proposal because they claimed it was a solution to the impasse over Pakatan's choice for prime minister.
"The June 25 meeting had asked me to make an announcement regarding Mr Shafie's candidacy and I did it on June 27.
"After the announcement was made, DAP and Amanah did not hold on to the decision to nominate Shafie during a July 6 Pakatan presidential council meeting.
"Instead, Mr Anwar was named as prime minister candidate, " said Dr Mahathir.
On Thursday, Mr Shafie said he believes he could solve the impasse over Pakatan's choice for prime minister.
He also indicated that there will be further discussions in Kuala Lumpur when Parliament reconvenes on Monday .
Doubts are being raised as to whether Dr Mahathir could mount a successful no-confidence motion against Mr Muhyiddin's leadership, given that his bloc has only six MPs and nine MPs from Warisan.
At least 112 MPs are needed to command a majority in the 222-seat Parliament. Mr Muhyiddin's PN has a narrow lead of 114 MPs.