Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, at 94 the world’s oldest leader, submitted his resignation to the king on Monday, his office said, after a bid by his political partners to bring down the government.
Dr. Mahathir “has sent a resignation letter as prime minister of Malaysia”, said a statement from his office.
Malaysian politics was in turmoil on Monday after leader-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim denounced a “betrayal” by coalition partners he said were trying to bring down the government, two years after it stormed to victory.
Mr. Anwar’s “Pact of Hope” alliance was thrown into crisis after his rivals within the coalition and opposition politicians met at the weekend reportedly to try to form a new government.
Speculation is mounting that Mr. Anwar, who had been the presumptive successor to Dr. Mahathir, and his lawmakers would be left out of any new coalition, ending his hopes of becoming premier any time soon.
According to reports, the proposed new government includes Mahathir’s party, the United Malays National Organisation — the party of scandal-tainted ex-leader Najib Razak, which was ousted at the 2018 polls — and a hardline Islamist group.
Mr. Anwar said late Sunday he was “shocked” at the bid to topple the ruling coalition, describing it as a “betrayal, because there has been a promise [to hand over power to me]”.
Mr. Anwar — a former opposition icon who was jailed for years on widely-criticised sodomy charges — was expected later Monday to meet the king, who must give his assent to the formation of a new government.
He had teamed up with former nemesis Dr. Mahathir ahead of the 2018 elections to oust the government of Najib, who had become embroiled in the massive 1MDB graft scandal.
They led an alliance to an unexpected victory against a coalition that had ruled Malaysia uninterrupted for over six decades, and 94-year-old Dr. Mahathir agreed to eventually hand power to Mr. Anwar.
But Dr. Mahathir, in his second stint as premier after first holding the role from 1981 to 2003, has repeatedly refused to say when he will transfer power, stoking tensions within the four-party coalition.
The alliance’s popularity had plummeted as it was accused of failing to raise living standards and protect the rights of the ethnic Malay Muslim majority, and it lost a string of local polls.
After the weekend meetings, analysts said the government stood little chance of surviving.
James Chin, a Malaysia expert at the University of Tasmania, said many Muslims were unhappy with the government and believed the argument put forward by opponents that it was being dominated by ethnic Chinese politicians.
“They want Mahathir in power, and they want Malay supremacy,” he told AFP.
Race is a highly sensitive issue in Malaysia. About 60 % of the population is Muslim but it is also home to substantial ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
Many were angry, however, that the democratically elected government, which came to power partly on a pledge to push through much-needed reforms, could be replaced without an election.
The people “will not agree to or cooperate with any ‘backdoor’ government formed out of the selfish, self-preservation agenda of certain MPs,” said a statement from a group of leading activists and academics.
Some called for a snap poll, although politicians appeared to be trying to form a new government without holding an election.
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