KUALA LUMPUR - Just hours after submitting his resignation to Malaysia’s King on Monday (Feb 24), Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was made caretaker Prime Minister.
The King accepted Tun Dr Mahathir’s resignation, but appointed him interim Prime Minister, Chief Secretary to the government Mohd Zuki Ali said in a statement.
Dr Mahathir will continue to run the country’s administration until a new prime minister and Cabinet are appointed, he added.
All ministerial appointments were also cancelled with effect from Monday as a result of the prime minister’s resignation, the chief secretary said in a separate statement.
The 94-year-old Dr Mahathir had handed in his resignation to the King at 1pm today, and was granted an audience with the ruler at 5pm.
After his resignation, the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition saw the departure of dozens of lawmakers that left it short of a majority in Parliament.
Dr Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), which has 26 MPs, announced that it has left the PH coalition.
Meanwhile, 11 MPs from Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) also quit the party to form an independent bloc. The departing lawmakers, a rival faction to Mr Anwar, are led by PKR deputy president Azmin Ali, who is Economic Affairs Minister, and Minister of Housing and Local Government Zuraida Kamaruddin.
The exit of these lawmakers has left PH short of simple majority in Parliament, meaning the current government has effectively fallen.
Sources told The Straits Times that 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 resignation move is likely to have been tactical, with a view to undoing 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.
Dr Mahathir has also resigned from his position as chairman of PPBM.
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.
The delay in forming this new pact may have been due to unresolved negotiations over government positions among its component parties, which are said to include main opposition parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
Monday's developments are in line with reports on Sunday that Dr Mahathir is planning to replace Malaysia’s ruling pact with a wider coalition that includes opposition parties Umno and PAS, but could leave out his PH allies.
The four-party PH coalition had comprised multiracial PKR, the Chinese-led Democratic Action Party (DAP), Dr Mahathir’s Malay-based PPBM, and Parti Amanah Negara, a moderate Islamic party.
It is understood that Dr Mahathir has coralled support of a majority of lawmakers in Parliament after a flurry of party meetings on Sunday (Feb 23) but has yet to receive the nod from Malaysia’s King to engineer his new so-called backdoor government.
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, amid calls from Mr Anwar’s supporters for him to make way for his designated successor, Mr Anwar.
It is said that the new government, if successfully formed, will comprise 41 MPs from BN, 26 from PPBM, 18 from PAS, nine from PH ally Parti Warisan Sabah, 19 from opposition Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), and 10 from PKR, totalling 123 MPs.
Leaders of this new coalition were granted an audience with Malaysia’s King on Sunday evening to discuss the transition.
Among those said to have attended the meeting with Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin were Datuk Seri Azmin, PPBM president Muhyiddin Yassin, Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, reported The Star.
Also seen at the palace were Warisan president and Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, and PBB president and Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg.