KUALA LUMPUR - Pakatan Harapan (PH) has told its lawmakers to vote Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim as Malaysia's prime minister, as the King concludes the search to determine who commands the numbers to form Malaysia's new government.
The Straits Times has learnt that the 92 MPs from the three-member coalition were instructed by their respective party chiefs to back Datuk Seri Anwar when interviewed by Malaysia's King on Wednesday (Feb 26), following through on the transition plan agreed prior to their shock May 2018 electoral victory - for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to resign and Mr Anwar to take over mid-term.
Dr Mahathir had resigned as premier on Monday following the apparent collapse of the PH government after members of his own Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and some PKR rebels allied themselves with the opposition. However, he was reappointed interim prime minister by Malaysia's King, until the political impasse can be resolved.
It is understood that the PH move, despite the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara expressing support on Monday for Dr Mahathir to return as premier, is a strategy to revive the PH government instead of going along with plans for a unity government with members of the opposition.
"PH doesn't want to govern with Umno or Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) leaders whether as a coalition of parties, or a collection of individuals," an official source had said.
When asked by reporters if he had the numbers, Mr Anwar said "I am patient and confident" and denied speculation that there was a deal in place with Dr Mahathir.
"Numbers is the prerogative of the King, we are not supposed to play with numbers," he said.
The move could mean that no candidate commands a majority, as it is learnt that some Umno and PAS legislators indicated they did not support Dr Mahathir as per their official party stance, and wanted a snap poll.
Malaysia's King has completed interviews of all 222 parliamentarians by Wednesday evening (Feb 26), with 137 MPs informing him whether they back interim premier Mahathir to continue leading the country, or if they preferred a snap election less than two years after the May 2018 polls.
Despite the rest of the now collapsed PH government affirming on Monday that they wanted Dr Mahathir to return as prime minister, PKR's Wangsa Maju MP Tan Yee Kew said they were supporting Mr Anwar as Malaysia's eighth prime minister.
"We are fully with Anwar," she said, referring to a statutory declaration. "I believe Amanah and DAP are with us."
Dr Mahathir became Malaysia's seventh prime minister after leading PH to victory in 2018 and ending six decades of Umno rule.
"Tun (Dr Mahathir) resigned. Made the interim prime minister. Give a chance to DSAI (Mr Anwar) to prove whether he has support to become the eighth PM. It is a position that cannot simply be inherited or handed down. You must have the support of the majority of MPs. We hope PPBM fulfils its promise. Tun the seventh PM, DSAI the eighth PM," Amanah communications director Khalid Samad posted on Twitter earlier on Wednesday.
PPBM MPs were the first to arrive from 10am and later issued a statement that all its MPs (25, excluding Dr Mahathir) want the interim prime minister to be given the job permanently.
The unprecedented move for the King to interview MPs individually instead of meeting party leaders appears to be in line with Dr Mahathir's plan to form a grand coalition of individuals across the political spectrum instead of trying to band together parties with diverse ideologies.
But already, the Umno-led Barisan Nasional pact and PAS said in a joint press conference after their audience on Tuesday that they would not enter a government if it included the DAP, a Chinese-dominated outfit they accuse of undermining Malay-Muslim interests, and in such a situation would prefer to head to the ballot.
Umno secretary-general Annuar Musa had also said they rejected the move to form a government via a majority of individuals, instead of parties, as this ran contrary to Malaysia's principles of parliamentary democracy.
DAP sources also told ST that the party would lose its legitimacy if it worked with "corrupt and extremist" leaders from Umno and PAS. It is understood that other PH partners, PKR and Amanah, are of the same view.
Meanwhile, PKR would likely baulk at the prospect of reconciling with sacked deputy president Azmin Ali, who exited with 10 MPs following his expulsion for allegedly betraying PH by trying to undo the agreed transition of power from Dr Mahathir to Mr Anwar.
Datuk Seri Azmin was a key figure in the so-called National Alliance, which on Sunday brought together pro-Mahathir leaders in PH and opposition parties to call for the 94-year-old to stay in power for the full term instead of handing the reins to Mr Anwar.
But Dr Mahathir did not accept the mandate, with sources saying he refused to accept Umno into his government, and resigned not just as premier, but also as chairman of his own PPBM, whose president Muhyiddin Yassin was also a key proponent of the National Alliance.
Dr Mahathir instead mooted plans for a unity government in meetings with party chiefs and Mr Azmin on Tuesday morning, and is scheduled to present the same to Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, who heads the eastern state's Warisan party, later on Wednesday.