KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia was plunged into a week of political crisis following the unexpected resignation of 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister on Monday.
His move fractured a coalition with old rival Anwar Ibrahim, 72, that had scored a surprise election victory in 2018. The volatile relationship between Anwar and Mahathir helped trigger the current crisis after Mahathir resisted pressure to set a date for a promised transfer of power to Anwar.
Politicians from the coalition hold talks at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur on a possible new alliance with some members of the ousted main opposition United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and other groups, according to sources.
That night, Anwar says some colleagues from the coalition are trying to bring down the government and form a new one to deny him the premiership.
Mahathir had been angry that he came under pressure from pro-Anwar ministers at a meeting of the coalition on Feb. 21 to set a clear timeline for a handover, according to political sources.
Mahathir resigns. Sources said he was upset by accusations that he was now willing to work with the same group that he defeated in the last general election amid allegations of corruption.
The king re-appoints him as interim leader until a successor is named. Cabinet dissolved.
The resignation brings down the Pakatan Harapan coalition. Mahathir’s party pulls out of it.
The palace says the king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, will meet all the 222 elected members of parliament before deciding on the next step.
Mahathir proposes to lead a unity government, inviting lawmakers from across rival political parties to join.
But the alliance defeated by Mahathir’s coalition in 2018 calls for elections and rejects his idea of a grand coalition.
In his first comments since the resignation, Mahathir apologizes for the political turmoil his decision brought.
The veteran leader says he would return as full-time premier if he had the support of parliament and that he wanted to form a government that is not aligned with any political party.
Anwar opposes a “backdoor government”. Three parties in the former ruling coalition nominate him as their candidate for prime minister, setting the stage for a potential showdown between the old political rivals.
Mahathir meets the king and later tells a news conference that king’s decision is to call a special session of parliament on March 2 to see who has majority support to become prime minister. Mahathir says there will be snap elections if nobody gets majority support.
Doubts are immediately raised about Mahathir’s comments and the constitutionality of the process he described.
The Anwar-led group says the call for a parliamentary session to elect a new prime minister is a challenge to the rights and powers of the monarch.
The palace does not comment.
The Speaker in Parliament rejects Mahathir’s request for a special session on March 2 without a decree from king.
After the king meets all lawmakers, the palace says the monarch does not have confidence that any parliamentarian has majority support to form a new government.
The palace says there will be no special parliamentary sitting but it will continue to engage with political leaders to see if any one can muster the majority to be prime minister.
Mahathir’s Bersatu party nominates former home minister Muhyiddin Yassin as its prime ministerial candidate. UMNO and Islamist party PAS vow to back him.
Compiled by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Frances Kerry