KUALA LUMPUR - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad looks set to replace Malaysia's ruling pact with a wider coalition that includes opposition parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), but could leave out his Pakatan Harapan (PH) allies who were voted into government at the last general election, political sources say.
It is understood that Tun 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.
Speculation of the imminent collapse of the PH government peaked on Sunday, when local media reported that leaders from Dr Mahathir's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and the country's two largest Malay-Muslim parties Umno and PAS were granted an audience with the King, to brief him on this latest political development.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim alluded to the possible shake-up, telling reporters there had been an effort to bring down the PH government by PPBM and elements within his PKR party.
His comments came after leaders and MPs from PPBM on Sunday morning met at their headquarters in Petaling Jaya, Selangor for around six hours.
Dr Mahathir, party president Muhyiddin Yassin, as well as youth wing chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, and other party MPs were seen at the building.
About a dozen ministers and MPs aligned to Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, PKR's deputy president and Economic Affairs Minister, were also said to have held a meeting at a hotel nearby.
The four-party PH coalition comprises multiracial PKR, the Chinese-led Democratic Action Party (DAP), Dr Mahathir's Malay-based PPBM, and Parti Amanah Negara, a moderate Islamic party.
A party insider told The Straits Times that the plan is for those aligned to Mr Azmin to leave PKR, which has 50 MPs - the largest number of MPs in Parliament. The insider said PPBM, which has 26 MPs, may leave PH.
However, a lawmaker aligned to Mr Anwar, who is meant to take over from Dr Mahathir as prime minister, dismissed the speculation, saying: "I don't think they have enough numbers."
A new coalition will need at least 112 MPs - a majority of the 222 seats in Parliament - to form a government.
Speculation is rife that PPBM and Mr Azmin's team from PKR will make up the numbers by joining forces with the Umno-led opposition coalition Barisan Nasional (BN), and PAS.
The leadership of Umno and PAS - the country's biggest Malay-Muslim parties - were attending a retreat over the weekend at the hillside resort of Janda Baik, just outside Kuala Lumpur, where the government change was believed to have been discussed.
Umno, which formed a political pact with PAS last year, is said to be holding a supreme council meeting on Sunday.
They have also openly backed Dr Mahathir to stay on, amidst calls from Mr Anwar's supporters for the 94-year-old premier 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 Mr 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.
A PKR assemblyman aligned to Mr Azmin told the Malay Mail website the new coalition will be named Perikatan Nasional.
Speaking to reporters, Mr Anwar hit out at betrayal from a faction of his PKR party. "Now we are waiting for further information but there were attempts to bring down the Pakatan government involving our former friend Bersatu and a small fraction from PKR who has betrayed us," he said during a religious event held at his Bukit Segambut residence that was attended by supporters.
"They have met with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong this evening but there is no further announcement," he added.
Mr Anwar's political secretary, Mr Farhash Wafa Salvador Rizal Mubarak, said Mr Anwar is also set for an audience with the King on Monday, although he told the Malay Mail the meeting had been "scheduled a long time ago" and that it was meant to provide normal political updates.
If the plan succeeds, Mr Anwar will not be able to command sufficient support to take over as prime minister. His PKR will be left with 40 MPs, while the other remaining PH parties DAP, with 42 MPs and Amanah, which has 11 MPs, will no longer be part of the government.
The move comes after a PH presidential council meeting on Friday, which agreed that Dr Mahathir would be the one to decide when he steps down as prime minister.
Dr Mahathir has repeatedly said that he will step down after Malaysia hosts the Apec Summit in November.
Prior to the 14th general election in May 2018, PH had agreed that Dr Mahathir would be prime minister for two years before passing on the baton to Mr Anwar.