PETALING JAYA: Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders gunning for Anwar Ibrahim to replace Dr Mahathir Mohamad were not in favour of going to Parliament to choose the next prime minister, an audio recording of a heated, two-hour meeting days before the coalition’s collapse in February has revealed.
Three vocal pro-Anwar ministers who took this stand were PKR leaders Saifuddin Nasution and Xavier Jayakumar, and Amanah’s Khalid Samad, all of whom were part of the Mahathir-led Cabinet.
Saifuddin disagreed with his then-party colleague Mohamed Azmin Ali, who earlier said that any prime ministerial appointment must go through Parliament in the spirit of the constitution, and was not up to the PH presidential council.
He said Mahathir himself was appointed “outside of Parliament” in the wake of the May 9 general election.
“The appointment of the prime minister took place outside Parliament, at the palace, with confirmation from four parties who won the majority,” Saifuddin said during a late-night PH presidential council meeting on Feb 21, a day before the nation was thrown into political crisis after several leaders broke ranks and held meetings with rival parties Umno and PAS at a hotel in Petaling Jaya.
“It was in the palace that the announcement and appointment of the prime minister was made after His Majesty was convinced that the four parties forming the majority were chosen by the people in a lawful general election.
“Did we turn our back on the constitution? No,” Saifuddin was heard saying in an audio recording of the meeting.
A recording of the entire meeting was independently verified by several leaders who attended.
Saifuddin’s view was echoed by Xavier, who said it was up to PH to name the next prime minister.
“If you want to rule, and we want to have a stable government, and we want to keep the term going and have another term, I think it is we who have to make that decision, Tun,” he said.
“Not the people outside, not Parliament. It is we that have to decide on this,” Xavier, who was the minister for water, land and natural resources, was heard telling Mahathir.
The duo’s view contrasted with that of Mahathir, who repeatedly warned his coalition partners during the meeting that Parliament would ultimately decide if his replacement had the confidence of the majority.
“Although we decide here, it may be rejected by the public, it may be rejected by the Parliament,” he said.
The meeting was held on the back of growing pressure from Anwar’s supporters in PH for Mahathir to step down.
Before the May election, PH said Mahathir would be made prime minister if the coalition took power, and that Anwar would succeed him following his release from prison.
While Mahathir did not indicate a timeline, he last said it would be some time after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Kuala Lumpur, then scheduled for November this year.
The meeting saw heated exchanges between two factions, one insisting on a clear timeline for Mahathir to step down for Anwar, and the other saying that talks about a transition of power had undermined the coalition’s credibility.
Azmin and Zuraida Kamaruddin were the only PKR MPs who joined their PPBM colleagues in disagreeing with a succession timeline, while Amanah’s Khalid and DAP leaders Gobind Singh Deo and Loke Siew Fook were vocal in urging Mahathir to state a specific date.
“The fact remains that we told the people when we went into the last election that Tun would lead and there would be a transition,” said Gobind.
“We cannot go out there and say there’s no transition. There was a promise to the people that there would be a transition, and we said there would be a transition to Anwar Ibrahim.”
Gobind also rejected a suggestion by Azmin that there had never been a timeline.
“I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. At the election, we didn’t fix the time, but after that we stated a time. You want to see the videos?”
Gobind at this point was interrupted by PPBM Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, who recalled a PH agreement giving full confidence to Mahathir in deciding when to step down.
“Why do you get so emotional?” Gobind responded, adding that he was also answerable to his party supporters.
“Tun has said two years, and then three years, and now after Apec. Even I didn’t know about it. We have to deal with it at some stage.
“You want to deal with it six months before the election? And then you want to put the government together? By which time Umno and PAS have gained so much ground? Today, they are the ones calling the shots.”
Throughout the meeting, Anwar refused to state his stand, saying he realised he had difficulty controlling voices calling for Mahathir to make way for him.
Meanwhile, Mahathir, who chaired the meeting, reminded the PH leaders that they still had not planned what to tell the media.
“We need to have some kind of consensus, otherwise I don’t know how to tell the press afterwards,” he said.
The two-hour meeting ended with Mahathir saying he would not give a timeline, maintaining his previous stand that his departure would be after Apec.
“Don’t keep me to any term. I will decide. If you trust me, I will decide. But I don’t have to tell you when. It may be one day before Parliament is dissolved. I’m not saying it is… it could be.
“Please don’t fix the time, I will decide,” Mahathir said, ending the meeting with statements that he would later repeat to the press.
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