PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The plan to form Perikatan Nasional originated from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself in order make him a prime minister supported by all Members of Parliament across all parties, said Senior Minister Azmin Ali.
He also said the general election would have been held last month if not for the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic currently faced by the country.
In an exclusive interview with The Star, the International Trade and Industry Minister and Gombak MP shared details of what happened behind the scenes which led to the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government and why he left Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim's side after 30 years.
"Perikatan is not a back-door government as there was a vacancy (in the post of prime minister). I did not suggest at that time - if it (resignation of Dr Mahathir) did not happen then - that we knock on the door and take him out and we go in," said Datuk Seri Azmin.
"That was not the plan or case."
Relating what happened before Dr Mahathir's resignation, Mr Azmin said that on Feb 23, 131 statutory declarations from MPs across parties were presented to the palace.
"It was all for one name as the prime minister - Dr Mahathir. We were then trying very hard to make sure that Dr Mahathir would continue to serve as the prime minister," Mr Azmin said.
"That was the meeting we had at his house on Feb 23 at 4pm when he met all the six political party leaders, including Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Parti Warisan Sabah president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) head Datuk Seri Abang Johari and myself, " said Mr Azmin.
He also questioned why Dr Mahathir had planned the Malay Congress with Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) on Oct 6 last year if he was indeed against working with Umno.
Mr Azmin then shared how the whole plan went haywire when Dr Mahathir resigned the next morning.
He said: "We were thrown into a political crisis when the sitting prime minister, Dr Mahathir, resigned.
"If Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin didn't act within that small window, someone else could have rushed to the palace and pressured the palace in order to become the prime minister. I would not have allowed that to happen.
"The only option for me and Muhyiddin then was to leave Pakatan."
Mr Azmin subsequently left PKR with nine other MPs.
He said the party leaders then returned to meet Dr Mahathir on Feb 24 to ask him what happened.
"We discussed before we went back to the palace. He was then appointed as interim prime minister," Mr Azmin said.
"Again, during that period - from Feb 24 to 28 - we worked day and night to get the numbers. Unfortunately, he did not get the strong, formidable numbers until Friday."
He continued: "So I told Dr Mahathir that in any democratic system, you need the numbers. If you go to elections, you need numbers. You go to Parliament, you need numbers. You go to the palace, you need the numbers.
"If you don't have the numbers, there is nothing much we can do. As there was no Parliament sitting then, under the Federal Constitution, the King had to decide who had the support of the majority to be PM."
Mr Azmin added: "Finally, Muhyiddin got that majority. Of course, we came in as a new government, not through an election but through a political crisis. But that crisis came about because this man tendered his resignation.
"If Dr Mahathir had not tendered his resignation that Monday, he would still be prime minister with a bigger majority."
To allegations that it was a back-door government, Mr Azmin said: "The King opened the door for us to come in, so it was not a back-door government."
Asked if he still has any ties with Dr Mahathir, Mr Azmin said he regarded him as a father.
"I still have so much respect, love and affection for Dr Mahathir. He is our statesman," he said. "I may disagree on what he did on Feb 24 when he tendered his resignation without sharing that with us beforehand."
He added: "I'm not saying that we would have vetoed him on it but based on our discussion on Sunday, Feb 23, we had plans for him before the opening of Parliament on March 9."
Mr Azmin insisted that he did not choose Mr Muhyiddin over Dr Mahathir.
"I think we should just allow Muhyiddin to lead, especially during this pandemic. Whatever you may say, I think he has done a very good job - very focused on handling the Covid-19 pandemic and reviving the economy with less politics," said Mr Azmin.
"So it is only fair for all MPs and citizens to give support to him."
On whether Perikatan would seek a mandate from the people through a general election, Mr Azmin admitted that had the Covid-19 pandemic not happened, an election would have been held last month.
"Although we came in with a majority, with all humility, I must say the majority is small. When the majority is small, the government is weak. When the government is weak (or) not stable, then we do not have the opportunity to focus on the delivery for the rakyat (people)," he said.
"If you ask me, of course, we are ready to go back to the rakyat to get the mandate. If you ask me when we should have got the mandate, I would say it should have been last month but unfortunately, we are facing the Covid-19 pandemic."
Mr Azmin continued: "The word 'election' is so toxic. Society cannot accept that, for they only want the government to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 and help retain jobs and make sure there is food on the table.
"So that is our focus now. But certainly when this pandemic is over - we don't know when, hopefully in the near future - we will go back to the rakyat to seek their mandate."
He said only the Health Ministry could give the green light for elections before the Perikatan term expires.
On working with Umno and PAS, which sometimes openly take pot shots at Perikatan, Mr Azmin said it was all part of being democratic.
"Maybe for the Malaysian media, it is a bit odd for members of the government to speak so loudly in public," he said.
"As for Muhyiddin and the Cabinet, we accept criticism as this is part of the democratic process. But of course, it is also our responsibility to explain, to engage and to allow the process to grow to be able to make stronger decisions on policies and particular programmes."
He added: "Look at the Budget. This is the first time in the history of the Finance Ministry that the minister himself engaged with opposition leaders. This never happened during Barisan Nasional or Pakatan governments.
"This is unprecedented because we allowed the democracy process as we needed their input. This budget is for the rakyat and the opposition too are representative of the rakyat."
On his own political ambitions, Mr Azmin said it was fate which led him to where he is right now.
"I am a reluctant politician. I must thank Dr Mahathir for getting me involved in politics in 1998," he said.
" When I served Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (as aide) for 15 years (when Anwar was education minister, finance minister and deputy prime minister), I had no interest in becoming active in politics until he was sacked in 1998," said Mr Azmin.
"Then I had to be together with the rakyat, part of the reformasi and later part of the political party, Keadilan Nasional. That was the first political party I was actively involved in, in 1999."
He continued: "I am not ambitious in politics. In PKR, I was denied in 2008 when we won in Selangor. Someone else was made the mentri besar and again, when he was removed unceremoniously by Anwar, the intention was not for me to succeed.
"Langkah Kajang happened and that is politics. By divine intervention, I was made the Selangor MB. I worked very hard and in the last general election in 2018, for the first time, Pakatan won 51.56 per cent of the votes in Selangor."
Said Mr Azmin: "Then, when the Pakatan government in Selangor was formed, my name was not there again. I was told to go to the federal government and I had to sit with the Sultan of Selangor to get his consent to move from Selangor to the federal government.
"He gave his consent that I may go to the federal government, provided that I support the development of Selangor under the Economic Planning Unit."
Asked why he has fallen out with Mr Anwar, whom he had stuck by for decades, Mr Azmin said he was not to blame.
"I have served him for 30 years - officially for 15 years when (he) held the posts of education and finance ministers and DPM (deputy prime minister).
"I also took care of his family when he was in prison. I thought after he was released from prison, he would come out a better person."
Mr Azmin continued: "Unfortunately, he became a bitter person - not only for me but for the whole nation.
"You can see that his close staff left him and many others from his previous personal team have also left him.
Mr Azmin gave names of a few individuals. "You can't blame me alone, then, for leaving him."