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Malaysian king appoints Mahathir as interim premier24 February 2020

94-year-old resigned as prime minister, head of ruling party in surprise move

Malaysia's king on Monday appointed Mahathir Mohamad as the country's interim prime minister following a brief resignation, according to a top government official. 

Chief Secretary to the Government Mohd Zuki Ali said King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah had accepted Mahathir's resignation but asked him to continue until a new government is formed.

"Therefore, during this period, he will manage the governance of the country until a new prime minister is appointed and the cabinet formed," he said in a written statement.

Mahathir met the king at Istana Negara, the official residence of Malaysia's monarch, in Kuala Lumpur after his surprise decision on Monday to resign from the post after days of tense political turmoil. 

"The interim post will serve for a maximum of 10 days," a source told MalaysiaKini online news portal.

However, later in the day, the country's Attorney General Tommy Thomas reportedly said that there is no time limit for how long someone can be the interim prime minister. 

"An interim PM has all the powers attached to the office of prime minister. That includes appointing or not appointing cabinet members as he wishes," Thomas was quoted saying by MalaysiaKini 

"There is no time limit to the office of an interim prime minister. Hence to state there is a 10-day or any other definite period is wrong," said Thomas.

Mahathir also resigned from his Unified Malaysian Indigenous Party (Bersatu), the political party part of the governing alliance.

The 94-year-old elected leader returned to power in 2018 following an alliance with his one-time rival Anwar Ibrahim, 72.

The alliance was based on a promise that Mahathir would after two years cede power to Anwar, who has accused the him and his party of being "traitors" to the agreement and making plans to form a new government without himself.

The power struggle between the two has dominated Malaysian politics for decades.

Speculations are rife over what led to the resignation, with local media reporting two different scenarios.

Malaysiakini,quoted an unnamed source saying the 94-year-old premier was fed-up with what transpired in the last 24 hours. 

"He is just too tired when his own party leaders tried to go for the latest manoeuvring. He was against the move in the first place," the source said. 

Another unnamed source said Mahathir is resigning and quitting the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition in order to become the legitimate leader of a new coalition in the making. 

In the second case scenario, Mahathir would become the eighth prime minister of Malaysia.

However, some observers say that the Malaysian king could also call for snap polls.

The announcement was made shortly after the President of the People's Justice Party (PKR) Anwar Ibrahim claimed to have been "betrayed" by the PH coalition, also known as the Alliance of Hope.

Following the decision, the PH dissolved as the parties under it decided to leave. 

Mahathir's party, the Bersatu, also called off the coalition. 

Furthermore, 11 dissident lawmakers from the PKR officially formed a new independent bloc.

A few hours after his announcement, Mahathir was summoned to meet King Abdullah. 

"Agong has summoned Tun Dr. Mahathir to Istana Negara at 5pm, please be there," the king's aide briefly said.

There was no official answer from Mahathir as to the reason for his resignation.

Meanwhile, local reports indicated that he would not want to work alongside the opposition United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). 

He also committed to hand over power to Anwar Ibrahim as he promised.

So far, several parties have expressed their support for Mahathir to form a new government, including the National Front, Malaysian Islamic Party, Malaysian United Indigenous Party, Sarawak Parties Coalition, Sabah Heritage Party and Azmin faction.

At least 112 votes from members of the 222-seat parliament are required to form a new government. 

However, the situation has changed as the the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Amanah Party -- the two parties in the Pakatan Harapan coalition - have voiced support for Mahathir. 

Lim Guan Eng from the DAP Party said it would propose Mahathir serve as premier once the PH party's presidential council meets on Monday evening.

Ramdhan Muhaimin, a political analyst, explained that support for Mahathir to remain in power could not be separated from his support among ethnic Malays.

There is concern that ethnic Chinese could pressure Malays if Mahathir left, Ramdhan told Anadolu Agency.

"Mahathir is considered as a representative of ethnic Malays in the country. So, as long as the domination of ethnic Malays persists, the king would eventually agree with his decision," he said.

"Based on Malaysian Constitution, the purpose of the king's presence in the political system is to protect the country's dignity," Ramdhan added.

During the 2018 election campaign, Mahathir had promised to hand over power to Ibrahim. 

Mahathir, 94, assumed office in May 2018 for his second stint as prime minister.

With this resignation, Mahathir will have the distinction of being both Malaysia's longest-serving and shortest-serving prime minister.

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