KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s Parliament will not hold a special session on Monday to decide the next prime minister, the country’s monarch announced, a day after interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the legislative body would do so.
The king made the declaration on Friday, as Mahathir’s own party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, made a surpise announcement that it has nominated party president, Muhyiddin Yassin, as its candidate for prime minister.
With the latest development on Friday, it is now unclear what role the 94-year-old Mahathir would play as chairman of the party, also known as Bersatu. Earlier, the party had said that it wants Mahathir to continue as prime minister.
On Thursday, Mahathir had announced that there will be a special session of parliament on March 2 to select the new prime minister.
He also said that if there is enough support for him, he will stay on as prime minister.
But the announcement on Thursday angered his former coalition allies, led by Anwar Ibrahim, who said it was inappropriate for him to pre-empt a decision by the king, whose powers would be challenged by a vote in parliament. The coalition had earlier nominated Anwar as prime minister.
On Friday, the parliament speaker, Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof, also contradicted Mahathir, saying that a special session can only be declared through an official decree by the king.
It is the latest twist in an ongoing political struggle that has captivated the country of 32 million people since last Sunday.
A failed bid by Mahathir’s supporters to form a new government without his designated successor, Anwar, and Mahathir’s shock resignation on Monday broke apart the ruling alliance less than two years after it defeated the corruption-tainted Barisan Nasional coalition that had led the country for 61 years.
The infighting renewed a political feud between Mahathir and Anwar that stretches back more than 20 years.
Anwar was Mahathir’s deputy in the 1990s during Mahathir’s first stint as prime minister, but he was sacked following a power struggle and later jailed on sodomy and corruption charges that he said were trumped up. Anwar led a reform movement that helped build a fledgeling opposition but was jailed a second time for sodomy in 2014 in a move he said was aimed at killing his political career.
Mahathir, who retired in 2003 after 22 years in power, made a comeback in 2016, spurred by anger over a significant corruption scandal involving a state investment fund.
Mahathir and Anwar reconciled and forged an alliance that won the 2018 election that ushered in the first change of government since independence in 1957.
Before the elections, the two leaders agreed to share the term as prime minister, with Mahathir taking the post for the first two years.
But their relationship remained uneasy as Mahathir refused to set a timeframe to hand over power to Anwar.
Mahathir, the world’s oldest leader at 94, said on Wednesday he wanted to form a nonpartisan government if chosen as premier for a third time. He said he had quit to show he was not power-crazy, and because he did not want to work with the former corrupt government that he overthrew in 2018 polls.
But his unity government plan was rejected by Anwar’s camp and other opposition parties, which said it would only create a “Mahathir government” that was not accountable to the people and was unsustainable.
Anwar said legislators from the three remaining parties in his alliance had nominated him to be prime minister when meeting the king after Mahathir rejected their offer to restore their former government. Anwar’s camp controls 92 seats of the 222-seat parliament, 20 seats short of a simple majority.
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