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Malaysia in transition

Mahathir's new coalition ousts Anwar from Malaysia PM race

Leader has support of lawmakers to stay on until 2023

Anwar called the move a betrayal.(Photo taken in Melaka, Malaysia, Dec. 7, 2019)   © Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR -- Some 130 Malaysian lawmakers, mostly from the opposition parties, have declared their support for Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to complete his five-year term, denying Anwar Ibrahim his chance at becoming prime minister. 

Malaysians were shocked on Sunday afternoon to learn of talks of a new political coalition with the opposition parties, with Mahathir's Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu) rumored to be leaving the remaining partners in the Alliance of Hope, including the Anwar-led People's Justice Party -- two days after the 94-year-old Mahathir said his retirement date is up to him.

Leaders of opposition parties United Malays National Organization (UMNO), Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and Anwar deputy-turned-critic Azmin Ali met with Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin on Sunday evening to submit their statutory declaration to Mahathir. Azmin is also expected to exit the party together with a dozen lawmakers who want Mahathir to stay in power.

Mahathir needs a simple majority of 112 lawmakers, out of a total of 222 elected representatives, to remain in power. Unofficial counts suggest the prime minister has the support of over 130 parliamentarians. 

The leaders of all political parties supporting Mahathir met in a luxury hotel in Petaling Jaya, a city just to the east of Kuala Lumpur, for dinner after the audience with the king. Mahathir was not present at the hotel.

The development proves true political pundits' prognostications that Mahathir would not fulfill the promise to pass power on to Anwar, made before the country's general elections in May 2018. That election overthrew the 61-year regime of the National Front then led by former Prime Minister Najib Razak. Najib told reporters that he also signed the statutory declaration supporting Mahathir, however with undisclosed conditions.

Speaking at his residence late Sunday, Anwar said he is aware of the developments, calling the move a "betrayal."

"We were shocked today by developments that, to me, were a betrayal because promises were made," he said.

Anwar also joked with attendees of a prayer session at his home that while he might not be the country's eighth prime minister, he might still be its ninth.

According to his political secretary, Farhash Wafa Salvador Rizal Mubarak, Anwar is scheduled to meet the king at 2 p.m. on Monday. Although he said the meeting was scheduled long before the latest development, sources close to Anwar told the Nikkei Asian Review that Sultan Abdullah will explain the current political landscape to Anwar and ask him to show support in numbers.

Earlier Sunday morning, Mahathir kept mum on the new coalition after chairing an emergency meeting of his party. 

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