PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has continuously stressed that he will pass the baton to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim, but Opposition representatives have allegedly met him to convince him to serve out his full term.
The issue of whether the 94-year-old will step down mid-term resurfaced recently after Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) president Abdul Hadi Awang pledged his party's allegiance, warning that "changing a prime minister is not like changing shoes".
A source claimed that a group of Opposition politicians met Tun Dr Mahathir on Tuesday night (July 30) to pledge their full support for him to complete his full term as Premier.
The bloc allegedly comprised members of the new Umno-PAS pact and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).
A source privy to the three-hour meeting said that the Opposition representatives met Dr Mahathir to convey to him that they want him to stay the full term and that no one takes over midway.
"The meeting was held on Tuesday night to tell Dr Mahathir that he has the Opposition's full support until the next general election, and that they do not agree with him handing over the reins midway to Anwar or anyone else," said the source.
Umno, PAS and GPS altogether have 74 seats in the federal Parliament, according to official figures shown in the parliament website.
The source claimed the Opposition leaders in attendance at the meeting were former Umno vice-president and defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein, PAS vice-president Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar, PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan and GPS chief whip Fadillah Yusof.
A high-ranking Pakatan Harapan leader who is a Cabinet minister was also present after having been called to join the meeting by Dr Mahathir, the source further said.
The Star attempted to contact a number of the leaders to verify that the meeting took place. It is believed that all of them have been told to keep the meeting confidential.
As at press time, one replied, "I am not saying 'no'," another said "Yes", while a third said, "I won't refute (it)".
None wanted to go on the record.
This comes even after an interview with Turkish broadcaster TRT World during his four-day working visit to the country on July 24, when Dr Mahathir said he would keep his promise to hand over the reins.
"I have already agreed that when I step down, he (Datuk Seri Anwar) will take over from me as the Prime Minister. That is a promise I made and I will stay with that promise," he told the Turkish TV station.
GPS is a Sarawak-based political alliance, formed by four former Barisan Nasional parties after their defeat in the last general election. It currently makes up the third-largest bloc in the Dewan Rakyat and forms the Sarawak state government.
"Like it or not, Umno and PAS are still the biggest political parties in the country, although they are the Opposition.
"The main agenda (for the Tuesday meeting) was for Umno, PAS and GPS to state their support for the Prime Minister to stay on for a whole full term, and that they do not want Anwar to take over, be it after two years or three years - not to change horses mid-stream.
"They also showed Dr Mahathir that they have the numbers of MPs supporting this - at present it is 129 from all blocs.
"More are intent on getting on board and they are now weighing their options," claimed the source.
The four-party ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition also has the backing of 10 MPs from Sabah - nine from Parti Warisan Sabah and one from Upko.
The Star sighted the list of MPs allegedly in support of Dr Mahathir staying on.
Other than PKR and Umno, the rest - Dr Mahathir's own Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, as well as GPS, Parti Warisan Sabah and Parti Amanah Nasional - are almost 100 per cent in support of the Prime Minister serving out his full term.
"DAP MPs have yet to make up their mind," said the source.
The source also said the team proposed the appointment of a "more capable deputy prime minister or deputy prime ministers who can step in as premier immediately if anything happens".
The source further said that this was not done to undermine anyone personally.
"The team and Prime Minister agreed that this would be a measure taken for the good of the country, beyond political parties, to ensure that the rakyat does not suffer from a political crisis midway if Dr Mahathir is made to step down before he is able to carry out his plans," said the source.
Another source said that Dr Mahathir had actually met all individuals separately before, but Tuesday was the first time they came together to ensure everyone was on the same page.
The second source also said the team was conveying sentiments of the Opposition to assure Dr Mahathir that he could continue his work without interruption, and not worry about stepping down midway.
"They want him to know they have his back," said this source.
Last Saturday, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi said the PAS-Umno alliance was in favour of Dr Mahathir completing his full term as Prime Minister.
Pakatan has a succession plan for Mr Anwar to take over the premiership from Dr Mahathir.
Although Mr Anwar has implied that he will be prime minister two years after the general election, there is no formal agreement as to when Dr Mahathir should step down.