Malaysian PM Mahathir quits as PPBM chief, party split over whether to work with Umno

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has quit as chairman of his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia on Feb 24,2020, just two hours after submitting his resignation as Malaysia's Prime Minister to the King. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has quit as chairman of his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) on Monday (Feb 24), just two hours after submitting his resignation as Malaysia's Prime Minister to the King.

Sources told The Straits Times that Dr Mahathir quit as party chief in protest against PPBM president Muhyiddin Yassin's decision to abandon the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition and instead work with opposition party Umno in a new government.

"During the Bersatu meeting, they promised to leave the decision to him and he did not want to ditch PH. But Muhyiddin and gang went ahead anyway," a top PH leader said.

Dr Mahathir revealed this in his morning meeting with other PH chiefs, namely Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim, Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and Parti Amanah Negara president Mohamad Sabu.

This was likely why Datuk Seri Anwar, who is meant to succeed Dr Mahathir, told reporters he had a positive meeting with Dr Mahathir and that their reform agenda would continue.

Both Amanah and DAP have issued statements saying they continue to stand by Dr Mahathir's leadership, ahead of the latter's 5pm audience with the King.

"Tun said he has resigned because he refuses to accept the demand that he work with Umno. He refused to accept their plans to ditch DAP and others in PH," a source said.

Dr Mahathir is set to head to the palace at 5pm, just hours after Mr Anwar's audience with the King.

It is unclear now which parties will constitute a new government, or if one can be formed. Just before Dr Mahathir resigned as PPBM chief, Tan Sri Muhyiddin said the party had left PH.

PKR deputy president Azmin Ali, who has long been at loggerheads with Mr Anwar, has also exited the party along with 10 other MPs.

Dr Mahathir had tendered his resignation as prime minister at 1pm, effectively disbanding the existing PH government.

Sources told The Straits Times Dr Mahathir's shock resignation is likely to be followed by declarations of support for him to continue in power until the end of the current parliamentary term.

"The Agong will reject the resignation saying Mahathir has the support from the majority of Parliament," a source said, referring to Malaysia's King.

Some PH sources say the resignation was tactical, to reconstitute a new government to undo the PH transition agreement under which Mr Anwar was supposed to replace the 94-year-old Dr Mahathir before the next election due in 2023.

Another PH source said that the Palace was already presented with the necessary declarations of support for Dr Mahathir on Sunday night, with a view to forming a new ruling coalition tentatively called Perikatan Nasional, or the National Alliance.

It was said to comprise 41 MPs from Umno-led Barisan Nasional, 26 from PPBM, 18 from PAS, nine from PH ally Parti Warisan Sabah, 18 from opposition Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), and 11 from PKR, totalling 123 MPs.

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The delay in forming this new pact may have been due to unresolved negotiations over government positions between its component parties, and the differences within PPBM over the role of Umno.

A new coalition will need at least 112 MPs - a majority of the 222 seats in Parliament - to form a government.

Both Umno and PAS have previously backed Dr Mahathir to stay on as prime minister, amidst calls from Mr Anwar's supporters for him to make way for his designated successor Mr Anwar.

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