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Malaysia in transition

Mahathir rejects termination by party led by Malaysia's Muhyiddin

Former leader vows to push motion to remove current PM as Bersatu president

Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks during a news conference in Putrajaya earlier in May.   © Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is refusing to accept termination by his party, telling reporters on Friday that he plans to seek to remove Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin instead.

Mahathir was sacked as a member of the Malaysian United Indigenous Party, or Bersatu, the previous day, along with his son Mukhriz Mahathir and three others. He had co-founded the party in 2016 and led it to victory in the 2018 election that ended the 61-year rule of the National Front.

Bersatu's president is Muhyiddin Yassin, who helped push Mahathir out of office earlier this year.

In the latest twist in Malaysia's ongoing political drama, Mahathir and his allies contend that they were ousted from the party improperly. They say their termination letters were signed by an executive secretary who lacks the necessary powers under the party constitution.

A defiant Mahathir entered the party's office on Friday, saying he would push a motion at a Bersatu supreme council meeting to sack Muhyiddin as party leader -- citing various alleged wrongdoings and abuse of power. Muhyiddin is currently in home quarantine after he was exposed to a coronavirus patient last week.

The termination letters had circulated on social media on Thursday. Sources close to Mahathir verified their authenticity when contacted by Nikkei, though an aide to the 94-year-old told reporters that he had not received his notice nor been directly informed.

The letters stated that the termination was due to the five politicians' decision to sit with opposition lawmakers in the recent one-day parliamentary session -- a protest against Muhyiddin's government.

According to Bersatu's Executive Secretary Muhammad Suhaimi Yahya, whose signature is on the letters, the actions contradicted clauses 10.2.2 and 10.2.3 of the party constitution, which say members forfeit their status if they break the rules, including one against joining other party affiliations.

As a result of the infractions, the letters state, each politicians' "membership is revoked immediately."

But according to Mahathir, he and his group of supporters were within their rights to sit with the opposition.

"There is no provision in the party's constitution on where I sit in the parliament," Mahathir said on Friday. "I have done nothing wrong against the constitution. Where you sit is not a cause for sacking."

Besides Mahathir and his son, the other sacked members were former Education Minister Maszlee Malik, former Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, and former Deputy Finance Minister Amiruddin Hamzah. All five, until Wednesday, were members of the lower house representing Bersatu.

Though Mahathir was once a mentor to Muhyiddin, the two locked horns when the latter backed a successful political coup with the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). This forced Mahathir's resignation in February and allowed Muhyiddin to become the country's eighth prime minister after a weeklong battle to demonstrate that he had support.

Mukhriz and the three others remained on Mahathir's side within Bersatu, which resulted in Mukhriz being dropped as chief minister of the northern state Kedah last week.

Muhyiddin, during the first week of his premiership, extended an olive branch to Mahathir. But rather than accept it, the former prime minister continued to criticize Muhyiddin's government and openly sided with opposition parties led by longtime prime minister hopeful Anwar Ibrahim.

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