Politician Anwar Ibrahim, right, gestures next to his wife Wan Azizah Ismail as they head to their party headquarters after meeting the king in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. Malaysia's king held unusual consultations with lawmakers for a second day Wednesday to resolve a political vacuum caused by the abrupt collapse of the ruling coalition and the resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. (AP Photo)

Malaysia's Mohamad says will return as PM if he has support

February 26, 2020 - 4:37 am

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Mahathir Mohamad said Wednesday that he will return as Malaysia's prime minister if he has majority support from Parliament, as the king held a second day of consultations with lawmakers to resolve a political vacuum caused by the abrupt collapse of Mahathir's ruling coalition.

Breaking his silence two days after his shocking resignation, Mahathir confirmed that his Bersatu party ditched the alliance Monday in a bid to form a new government with the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, the party of disgraced ex-leader Najib Razak, who is on trial for corruption, and a fundamentalist Islamic party. The move had thwarted a pre-election agreement by Mahathir to hand over power to his named successor, Anwar Ibrahim.

Mahathir said he had quit to show he wasn't power crazy and because he cannot work with the corrupt-tainted UMNO, which he had ousted in 2018 elections. He made no mention of Anwar in his speech, but reiterated that the lower house of Parliament should be the one to pick the prime minister.

The world's oldest leader at 94, Mahathir said he would form a new government that isn't party-centric but one that prioritizes national interests if given a chance to helm the country again.

“If I really still have support, I will return. If not, I will accept whoever's chosen," he said in a televised message.

“I am not aiming to be popular," he said. “I just want to do what is best for the country. ... I believe, rightly or wrongly, politics and political parties must be set aside for now. If allowed, I will form an administration that does not side with any party. Only national interest will be prioritized.”

Mahathir spoke as the king completed a two-day consultation with all 222 lawmakers to determine who they support as prime minister or if they want fresh elections. The king's role is largely ceremonial in Malaysia, but he appoints the person with majority support in Parliament as prime minister.

The departure of 37 lawmakers, including 11 from Anwar's party, deprived the governing Alliance of Hope of majority rule and sparked a crisis less than two years after its election victory ousted a corrupt-tainted coalition that had ruled for 61 years.

The king dissolved the Cabinet but reappointed Mahathir as interim leader.

Anwar and more than three dozen lawmakers from his party arrived at the palace Wednesday morning in an open-top double-decker bus.

“God willing, may there be a good outcome for all,” Anwar tweeted.

Analysts said it was a toss-up, with Anwar still in the running for the top job.

"The (power transition) deal will have to be renegotiated, but support for Anwar among the (Alliance of Hope) remains strong and he remains the leading contender," said Bridget Welsh, honorary research associate at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia.

The premiership eluded Anwar once two decades ago. Once a high-flying member of the former ruling coalition, Anwar was convicted of homosexual sodomy and corruption after a power struggle with Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years until 2003. Anwar was freed from prison in 2004 but was once again convicted for sodomy in 2015, charges that he said were concocted to destroy his political career.

Angered by a massive corruption scandal at a state investment fund, Mahathir made a political comeback, and he and Mahathir forged an alliance that that ousted Prime Minister Najib Razak’s coalition, which had been in power since independence from Britain in 1957.

Anwar couldn’t participate in the 2018 elections because he was behind bars for a second sodomy conviction. But he was freed and pardoned by the king after the alliance won power. Mahathir initially said he expected to stay as prime minister for two years to clean up the government, but refused to set a firm timeline for passing the baton to Anwar.

Mahathir has been meeting with various political leaders, and on Wednesday met with finance ministry officials about a stimulus plan to bolster the economy hurt by the new virus running through Asia and much of the world.

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