Malaysia's Mahathir moots grand coalition but old foes decline

Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad proposed the idea of a grand coalition to leaders of the major political parties he met. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's political turmoil continued on Tuesday (Feb 25) as a plan mooted by interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to form a unity government across the political divide received short shrift from former ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) as well as its opponents, Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

The Straits Times understands that Tun Dr Mahathir proposed the idea to Malaysia's main political leaders on Tuesday morning, a day after his shock resignation as premier and the collapse of the PH government. "The idea is to step away from extreme race and religious politics and to try politics of national unity," a source familiar with the talks told ST.

But the plan was panned, as old political enmities took centre stage.

Sources present at the PH presidential council meeting on Tuesday said PH members Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Parti Amanah Negara would not join a unity government with Umno and PAS in it.

Meanwhile, the country's largest Malay Muslim parties, Umno and PAS, said they refuse to work with DAP, which they accuse of being anti-Malay and anti-Islam.

"If the unity government includes DAP, we are unanimous in that we will not join the government," Umno secretary-general Annuar Musa said.

Tan Sri Annuar Musa also said a snap election should be called if a government was formed with DAP in it. "The mandate must be returned to the people. Parliament must be dissolved. Let the people decide," he said at a press conference held by Umno, PAS, the Malaysian Chinese Association, Malaysian Indian Congress and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah.

However, a source familiar with the proposal told ST the basis of this "unity government" is to have a "technocratic government supported by all MPs, instead of parties with particular ideologies, and allow good policy to be executed without being politicised".

While Umno may have ruled itself out of a government with the DAP, speculation is mounting that its former vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein may revive previous plans to defect with several other MPs to join a Mahathir administration.

ST understands that the proposal for a unity government was mooted by close advisers to Dr Mahathir, including Tun Daim Zainuddin, a long-time right-hand man and troubleshooter for the elder statesman since his first run as prime minister in the 1980s.

Remote video URL

The King is expected to conclude his interviews of all MPs by Wednesday evening. Dr Mahathir is also scheduled, on the same day, to meet Sabah chief minister Shafie Apdal who heads the Warisan party.

A top PH leader told ST he feared that "this unity government plan is over-reaching", given the deep grudges borne by Malaysia's wide array of parties.

The DAP is also unlikely to join hands with Umno and PAS. Meanwhile Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) has sacked its deputy president Azmin Ali for "betrayal" due to his alleged attempts to dismantle PH.

The Prime Minister's Office confirmed that Dr Mahathir met party chiefs from the PH coalition and those in the opposition on Tuesday. Others who attended included the president of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) Muhyiddin Yassin, who pulled the party out of PH, and Datuk Seri Azmin who took 10 MPs with him after being sacked from PKR.

These two figures were instrumental in bringing together the so-called National Alliance which would see opposition parties such as Umno, PAS and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) backing Dr Mahathir to lead the country until the end of his term instead of handing power over to PKR president Anwar Ibrahim, in accordance with PH's agreement.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.