Malaysian turmoil deepens with Mahathir fate in doubt
- Parliament vote on new PM rejected by royal palace
- Mahathir's party names Muhyiddin Yassin as candidate
- UMNO and PAS parties pledge support for Muhyiddin
KUALA LUMPUR: Uncertainty grew over the political fate of Malaysia's 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad on Friday after the royal palace rejected a plan for selecting a new prime minister announced by the man who has dominated the country for decades.
Mahathir's party dropped him as its candidate for the premiership, and chose his next-in-line Muhyiddin Yassin, four days after the world's oldest head of government plunged Malaysia into turmoil by resigning unexpectedly.
Widely perceived as an attempt to consolidate power, Mahathir's resignation on Monday tore apart an alliance with old rival Anwar Ibrahim, 72, that brought them surprise election victory on an anti-corruption platform in 2018.
Mahathir had said on Thursday that there would be a vote in parliament on March 2 for a new prime minister, but the palace announced after a meeting of the country's nine sultans that there would be no such special sitting.
"The palace will continue to engage with leaders of political parties for their lawmakers to voice their preferred candidate for prime minister," the palace said in a statement.
Mahathir, appointed as acting prime minister after his resignation, made no comment to reporters after a speech on Palestinian rights.
Mahathir had said on Thursday that parliament's vote was needed after the king failed to find any candidate able to win majority support during two days of consultations with the 222 elected members of parliament.
But his announcement had angered Anwar, who said the king has the power to choose a prime minister based on whoever he thinks is most likely to be able to form a government.
The crisis revived a power struggle between Mahathir and Anwar that has shaped Malaysian politics for two decades.
In an alliance with Anwar, Mahathir left retirement in 2018 to win back the post he held from 1981-2003. But tension had persisted between the two over Mahathir's promise to one day hand him power. No precise date for that was ever set.
Their victory in the 2018 election had ended six decades of rule by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) under then prime minister Najib Razak, who is currently on trial for corruption.
Anwar's alliance said on Friday he should be given the chance to speak to the king to convince him that he had the numbers to win a majority in government.
But UMNO and Islamist party PAS swung support behind the candidate put forward by Mahathir's Bersatu party for prime minister: 72-year-old former interior minister Muhyiddin, identified by Mahathir as a potential successor.
"The nation’s fate hangs in the balance," said Liew Chin Tong, a member of Anwar's alliance. "All MPs and parties will have to ask the question, who do they want to work with."
UMNO's political fortunes have been on the rise since its 2018 election defeat with support from an ethnic Malay majority fearful it is losing out to minority ethnic groups such as Chinese and Indians.
As well as the personal enmities, politics in the country of 32 million are tangled in ethnic, religious and regional loyalties and a struggle between reformers and traditionalists.