Mahathir's meeting with King ends amid speculation some PKR MPs set to return to PH

Interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad delivers a nationally televised address on Feb 26, 2020. PHOTO: BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR - Interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has left the Palace following an audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Thursday (Feb 27), after the King completed his interviews of Malaysia's parliamentarians in search of a new government the previous evening.

He left at around noon. However, no details are available as to what transpired in the one-hour meeting. He waved but did not stop to speak to the media when he left.

However, with Malaysia's nine state rulers set for a previously unscheduled conference on Friday afternoon, it appears that a conclusion to the political impasse has not been achieved.

A total of 220 out of Malaysia's 222 MPs - Umno's Padang Rengas MP Nazri Aziz is overseas and Dr Mahathir is understood to vote for himself - were polled by the King on who they supported to lead the country, or if they preferred a snap poll.

With the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition's remaining three parties ordering their 92 MPs to back Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Anwar Ibrahim, it appears no one has the majority on paper.

Dr Mahathir, who was, up to Monday, backed by all parties despite resigning the position, had the declared support of his own Parti Pribumi Malaysia Bersatu (PPBM), rebels from PKR aligned to sacked deputy president Azmin Ali, the Coalition of Sarawak Parties (GPS), and Sabah's ruling Warisan party.

This means he has the support of 64 MPs, short of a simple majority of 112 needed to form a government.

However, the interviews were conducted individually, with only the King and the chief secretary of the government in attendance, and some observers have suggested that there are MPs who broke party ranks.

Dr Mahathir addressed the nation in a televised broadcast on Wednesday evening after the King finished his two-day long audiences with lawmakers, proposing a "non-partisan" unity government that aims to rise above party politics.

But PH's stance is that Dr Mahathir should be PM as head of the coalition, as it was given the mandate in the election less than two years ago.

The opposition, including the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) and Islamic party Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), have said they prefer a snap election rather than work with the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the PH component they claim is anti-Malay and anti-Islam.

Umno is briefing its 191 divisional chiefs on Thursday afternoon on the political impasse and the possibility of fresh polls.

Meanwhile, PPBM secretary-general Marzuki Yahaya said on Thursday that Dr Mahathir has agreed to return as party chairman, after he had earlier resigned from the post on Monday.

PH leaders were on Thursday afternoon gathered at a hotel just outside Kuala Lumpur. Part of the agenda appears to be to confirm that several MPs who were said to have followed Datuk Seri Azmin out of the party would be returning to PKR.

The chaos was sparked when renegades from PPBM and PKR joined the opposition on Sunday to call on Dr Mahathir to stay in power until the next election, instead of honouring a PH transition plan for Datuk Seri Anwar to take over midterm.

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Despite the turmoil, Dr Mahathir is set to go ahead with announcing a stimulus package on Thursday afternoon that was planned before the government collapsed.

If he is sworn in as premier by then, it would be the first signature policy of his new unity government - addressing the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak that has dampened Malaysia's already slowing economy.

In light of this crucial announcement, it is not expected that the King will announce a verdict that removes the interim leader's legitimacy to roll out new policy.

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