Mahathir off to Istana as unity govt looks set to trump partisan blocs

Dr Mahathir Mohamad looks set to make history even after the collapse of the coalition he led.

KUALA LUMPUR: Dr Mahathir Mohamad is heading to Istana Negara, a day after his rare speech on national television in which he apologised for his resignation earlier this week that led to the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government.

An aide in the Prime Minister’s Office has confirmed that Mahathir would be having an audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong at 11am today.

A well informed source said the 94-year-old, two-time prime minister and now the interim leader in the middle of an unprecedented power vacuum, has the majority needed, this time made of “friends old and new, and foes old and new”.

“That he has the numbers is a foregone conclusion,” the source told FMT under condition of strict anonymity.

“The only problem he faces now is in getting into safer grounds, and that can only happen if a handful of MPs including from his former Cabinet decide to ditch their party loyalties,” the source added.

Mahathir’s trip to the palace today could be another historic event in Malaysian politics in the event he is sworn-in to head a new government.

Just two years ago, he returned to power 15 years after he stepped down from two decades of rule, which saw one of Malaysia’s most colourful political and economic transformations since independence.

Yesterday, Mahathir pleaded to the public to give him a chance to gather MPs from all sides and form a non-partisan government.

“Right or wrong, I feel that politics and partisan politics need to be put aside for now. If allowed, I would try to establish a government that does not side with any party. Only the interest of the nation will be given priority.

“If permitted, this is what I will attempt,” he said reading out from an 18-point prepared statement.

A source said Mahathir’s proposal is seen as “too revolutionary” for Malaysia’s fractious political scene.

“But it is also a compromise between a government with a non-Malay majority as represented by Pakatan Harapan, and a government that is almost all made up of Malays,” it said.

A quick look at the current PH bloc backing PKR president Anwar Ibrahim for prime minister reveals a composition of MPs “that could be a political time-bomb”, the source told FMT.

He refers to the support secured by Anwar yesterday during the Agong’s interviews with MPs.

Out of the 92 MPs from DAP, PKR and Amanah, 59, about two-thirds, are non-Muslims, while only 33 are Muslims, which includes DAP’s sole Malay MP, Tengku Zulpuri Shah Raja Puji.

At the same time, the coalition proposed by MPs from Umno, PAS and PPBM are overwhelmingly Malay.

“This is why civil society groups are accepting the argument for a compromise, and that is Mahathir’s non-partisan coalition,” the source said.

Support for a non-partisan unity government proposed by Mahathir has also come from Ambiga Sreenevasan, the former chairman of Bersih 2.0.

Despite criticism from her civil society friends, Ambiga, who spearheaded several major rallies for political reforms, said a unity government would provide immediate stability and would also be cheaper than a snap election.

“We need it! That requires everyone to cooperate in the interest of the people,” she said in one of several tweets.

Her stand is in contrast to the view taken by the current leadership of Bersih.

On Tuesday, the group said a unity government was against the spirit of democracy, and could spell the end of the opposition.

But Ambiga said the concept was not alien, giving the example of Indonesia where President Joko Widodo recently appointed a political rival to his Cabinet.