Malaysia PM resigns amid political wrangling

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir, also currently the world’s oldest PM, has resigned as of 1PM (Feb 24) today after 655 days in power. 

Dr Mahathir handed in his resignation to the nation’s king after a day of rife political speculation sparked by a flurry of high-level closed-door meetings yesterday (Sunday). 

The secretive meetings yesterday prompted Mr Anwar Ibrahim, long touted to be Dr Mahathir’s successor, to issue a statement that he has been betrayed by a faction from his own party and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM). The latter, which consists of 26 Members of Parliament (MP), will leave ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) along with Dr Mahathir. 

Meanwhile, 11 MPs from Mr Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) have also announced their departure from the party to form an independent bloc. 

PKR’s deputy president Azmin Ali is allegedly leading this camp to join forces with Dr Mahathir, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), and Parti Islam SeMalaysia to form a new government. 

These lawmakers’ exits have essentially deprived current PH administration of the simple majority needed to continue as government. 

It is however unclear so far if a fresh round of elections will happen, or if the Agong will accept Dr Mahathir’s letter of resignation. 

Sources have speculated that Dr Mahathir’s move to resign was likely tactical with the intention of thwarting PH’s initial transition plan for Mr Anwar to assume the seat of Prime Minister sometime around May 2020.

Malaysia’s Agong may reject the resignation, insisting that Dr Mahathir still commanded majority support in Parliament.

Others view the current PM’s actions as a nasty case of déjà vu. Dr Mahathir famously sacked Mr Anwar from his cabinet in the 90s and had his rival arrested for sodomy. 

The 94-year-old PM joined forces in 2018 with long-time rival Mr Anwar to win a watershed election promising voters a new era of economic transformation and clean governance. 

The general election in May 2018 also saw the ouster of Najib Razak and Malaysia’s longest ruling political party Barisan Nasional.

Former PM Najib Razak was subsequently brought to trial over multiple charges of graft, money-laundering, and embezzlement as part of 1MDB – the country’s biggest and most intriguing financial scandal to date. 

The political turmoil sent seismic shocks to the stock market and ringgit, causing the FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index to extend its losses to almost 3% this afternoon and prompting fears of an impending bear market. 

Meanwhile, the ringgit has weakened to its lowest in six months against the U.S. dollar and Singapore dollar. 

Things are likely to remain highly uncertain for Malaysia in the immediate future especially against a backdrop of slowing economic growth from the ongoing trade war and the global Covid-19 outbreak.

Photo by Tasnim News Agency on Wikimedia.