KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has turned down an invitation from opposition party Umno for his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition to form a so-called unity government with the Barisan Nasional (BN) alliance, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and other parties in Sarawak and Sabah.
The offer was made by Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, deputy president of Umno, the Malay-dominant party which leads BN.
BN governed the country for more than six decades before being defeated by PH in the general election in May last year.
The Prime Minister said PH has no interest in forming a unity government with the opposition, as the existing Cabinet is made up of ministers of various racial backgrounds, in line with Malaysia's diverse cultures.
"Every government formed since Merdeka until today has Cabinet members made up of all races," said Tun Dr Mahathir, referring to the country's independence from colonial rule in 1957.
"This is a fact we cannot dismiss - that the country is made up of various races, and every race has their right in the country," he told reporters at the Parliament lobby on Tuesday (Oct 8).
Mr Mohamad's offer came after Dr Mahathir attended the Malay Dignity Congress on Sunday, which discussed concerns that Malay Muslim interests were being sidelined.
PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and leaders from Umno also attended the event, at which the community's demands regarding religion, politics, the economy, education, and culture were aired.
In a statement on Monday, Mr Mohamad said that if Dr Mahathir was sincere about strengthening the position of Malays and Islam, then he should form a new government with BN, PAS and parties in east Malaysia.
Dr Mahathir is chairman of the Malay-based Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, one of the four parties in PH. Its partners in the coalition are Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Democratic Action Party and Parti Amanah Negara.
"I'm confident that Umno and PAS have no problems in accepting Dr Mahathir and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia in this grand agenda of Malays and Islam," added Mr Mohamad.
Dr Mahathir on Tuesday also dismissed criticism of his scathing remarks about the Malay community during the congress. He had said there would not be much improvement in the livelihood of Malays if the Malays themselves did not want to change for the better.
"I wanted to speak the truth... If we cannot criticise someone, how can we improve them? If they are wrong and we praise them, that is wrong," he said on Tuesday.
"I'm just saying that Malay dignity can only be restored by the Malays themselves, and they cannot depend on anyone else, not even the government."