February 28, 2020 / 3:13 AM / a month ago

Malaysia's monarchy to rule on pathway out of political turmoil

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Malaysia’s nine monarchs are due to meet on Friday to determine how the country’s next government will be formed after the shock resignation of Mahathir Mohamad earlier this week created political turmoil.

Mahathir’s move, which broke a coalition with old rival Anwar Ibrahim that had secured a surprise election victory two years ago, has been widely perceived as an attempt to consolidate the 94-year-old leader’s power.

Mahathir, who was named by Malaysia’s king as interim premier immediately after resigning on Monday, said on Thursday after a further meeting with the king that parliament would hold an unprecedented vote for a new leader on Monday.

That announcement angered the opposing coalition of three parties led by Anwar, 72, who argued it was inappropriate for Mahathir to preempt the king’s decision and that a vote in parliament would challenge the powers of the monarch.

Under Malaysia’s political system, the king would usually determine which party or coalition had a majority of support following representations from each. The winning party or coalition would then choose the prime minister.

The vote flagged by Mahathir upends that system by allowing all members of parliament to vote for a leader across party lines. Such a vote would be in line with Mahathir’s proposal to head a unity government that would draw ministers from any party he likes.

Mahathir said on Thursday the parliamentary vote was necessary as the king had reported no party had a majority. The king had taken the unusual step of meeting with all 222 members of parliament, instead of just the leaders, to gauge support.

If no candidate received majority support at Monday’s vote, there would be a snap election, Mahathir added.

“I think it’s interesting that for the first time in the history we have parliament determining the prime minister, something unprecedented,” Tian Chua, a former lawmaker from Anwar’s party, told Reuters by telephone. “Regardless who is the chosen one, it shows our democracy is maturing.”

TIMELINE UNCERTAIN

The nine sultans, led by Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, will meet at 0330 GMT. They serve as hereditary ceremonial heads of individual Malaysian states.

The palace did not give any indication of whether they would confirm the plan for a parliamentary vote on Monday or instead outline another process. It did not say when their decision would be made public.

Mahathir, who was prime minister from 1981 to 2003, came out of retirement to form the Pakatan Harapan coalition with Anwar on an anti-corruption platform to defeat the UMNO party and its Barisan Nasional alliance headed by Najib Razak in 2018.

UMNO’s popular support has been resurging and it has said it wanted new elections.

Mahathir’s resignation also freed him from a promise to hand over the reins to Anwar before his term ended in 2023. The three parties in Anwar’s alliance have the biggest share of votes with 92 seats in parliament, but still short of a majority 112.

The political upheaval comes at a critical time for Malaysia. Mahathir announced a $4.7 billion economic stimulus package on Thursday to counter the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on the country’s economy. (Reporting by Rozanna Latiff, Joseph Sipalan, Liz Lee and Krishna N. Das; editing by Jane Wardell)

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