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Malaysia in transition

Malaysia torn between Mahathir unity government and snap polls

King expected to name new leader Wednesday as 'coup attempt' fades

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad appears closer to returning as prime minister, after the failure of what has been called a coup attempt by his estranged party and the opposition that prompted the 94-year-old to resign Monday.

On his first day as the interim prime minister Tuesday, Mahathir met with leaders of nearly every political party to propose an all-party unity government.

Most of the parties want Mahathir to remain prime minister, though a decision will be made after private interviews with all 222 members of the lower house of parliament conducted by Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin.

Annuar Musa, secretary-general of major opposition party United Malays National Organization, told reporters that Mahathir proposed the unity government to UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

But the UMNO and ally Malaysian Islamic Party, known as PAS, rejected the proposal after deliberation and recommended dissolving parliament when meeting with the king at 3 p.m. local time Tuesday.

"The idea of unity government goes against our parties' principles of not being associated with DAP," Annuar said, referring to the Democratic Action Party. "We are withdrawing our support for Mahathir unless he wants to create a coalition government without the DAP."

UMNO and PAS prefer snap elections, creating a fresh mandate to govern the country for the next five years.

"The best thing is to dissolve the parliament for snap polls, leave it back to the people," Annuar said.

The two Malay ethnic nationalist parties oppose the multiracial, center-left Democratic Action Party, which was a member of the Pakatan Harapan coalition that led the country before Mahathir's resignation on Monday.

The DAP, most of whose members are ethnic Chinese, favors multi-racial policies that offer equal access to economic opportunities. The party has in the past opposed Muslim-centric policies and laws.

The king met with about 90 members of parliament Tuesday, with plans to meet the other 132 lower house members Wednesday before making a decision regarding the new prime minister.

The new leader and cabinet could be swore in as early as Wednesday night.

Opposition parties have dropped the idea of removing Mahathir, sources close to UMNO told Nikkei, because his resignation as prime minister -- and from his party, Bersatu -- caused some to withdraw support for the opposition. Bersatu, or the Malaysian United Indigenous Party, had withdrawn from Mahathir's Pakatan Harapan coalition. 

"Some supported the move to overthrow the government by forming a Muslim-majority coalition to win the hearts of the Malays, but all this was with Mahathir as the prime minister," a source said.

Regional parties in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, holding 27 seats in the lower house, have thrown their support behind Mahathir -- diminishing hopes for a coup.

Mahathir needs a simple majority of 112 lawmakers in the lower house to remain in power. Unofficial counts suggest the nonagenarian can count on the support of over 130 parliamentarians.

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