KUALA LUMPUR — Veteran Malaysian politician Mahathir Mohamad said he would seek to oust Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin at every turn, scolding his successor for bringing back into power a graft-tainted party rejected by voters in an historic election two years ago.
The prospect of more political and policy uncertainty in Malaysia comes at a time when the multi-ethnic Southeast Asian nation is grappling with the health crisis and economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday, the 94-year-old Mahathir, who resigned the premiership in February, questioned the legitimacy of Muhyiddin’s 2-1/2 month old coalition with the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
“It’s wrong for this backdoor arrangement to be done. We want to give the people the rightful government that they chose. That is our aim,” Mahathir told Reuters in an interview conducted on video conferencing app Zoom.
Having been part of Mahathir’s government, Muhyiddin unexpectedly emerged as prime minister in March after forging alliance with UMNO to gain a parliamentary majority. The opposition have accused him of stealing power by shifting alliances instead of earning it at the ballot box.
Earlier this week, the government avoided a confidence vote tabled by Mahathir, insisting that parliament gave priority to the fight against the coronavirus, and its economic fallout. But Mahathir reckoned Muhyiddin’s alliance only held a two-seat majority in parliament’s 222-seat lower house, and said he would keep working with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, despite past differences, to topple the government that replaced them.
“That is the narrowest majority any government in Malaysia ever had,” Mahathir said. “(Muhyiddin) is going to be in very great trouble. Because whatever chance we have to prove that it is not legitimate for him to be the prime minister, we will do that.”
He said opposition parties would reject bills that Muhyiddin’s administration brings to parliament if a confidence vote is not allowed to be tabled.
“If everything he brings to parliament is rejected, how does he continue?,” Mahathir said.
Having led Malaysia for 22 years until 2003, Mahathir came out of retirement to join hands with former foes to oust then prime minister Najib Razak, who now faces corruption charges mostly related to the alleged looting of billions of dollars from sovereign fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd.
The multi-ethic alliance led by Mahathir and Anwar scored a stunning victory in the 2018 election, toppling Najib and dumping UMNO out of power for the first time since Malaysia’s independence from British colonial rule. Najib, who co-founded 1MDB, has denied all wrongdoing.
Last week, prosecutors dropped money-laundering charges tied to 1MDB against Riza Aziz, Najib’s stepson, after agreeing to a deal that officials said included the recovery of $107.3 million from overseas assets.