KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad resigned on Monday in a shock move after his political allies sought to form a new coalition in a bid to block the succession of leader-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim.
It followed a weekend political drama that saw an attempt by Anwar’s rivals within his own “Pact of Hope” coalition — which stormed to a historic election victory in 2018 — and opposition politicians to form a new government.
That coalition would reportedly have excluded Anwar, Mahathir’s presumptive successor and a former opposition icon who was jailed for years on questionable sodomy charges, blocking his ascent to the premiership.
Anwar and Mahathir — the world’s oldest leader, aged 94 — have a notoriously stormy relationship but joined forces to oust a corruption-plagued government at the 2018 polls.
Mahathir, who previously served as premier from 1981 to 2003, had made a pre-election pledge to hand power to Anwar but has repeatedly refused to fix a date.
With the ruling coalition’s fate still uncertain on Monday morning, Mahathir’s office made the surprise announcement that he had “sent a resignation letter as prime minister of Malaysia” to the king at 1:00pm (05:00 GMT). No reason was given.
Shortly before, Mahathir’s Bersatu Party announced it was leaving the ruling coalition and 11 lawmakers resigned from Anwar’s party, leaving the Pact of Hope in tatters and fuelling suggestions efforts could be underway to form a new alliance.
Despite speculation Mahathir — a wily political operator known for authoritarian tendencies during his first stint in power — was leading the push for a new coalition, Anwar insisted this was not true.
Anwar said Mahathir had assured him on Monday that “he played no part in it”, adding he was “very clear that in no way will he ever work with those associated with the past regime”.
According to local media, the new coalition would have included the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the party of disgraced ex-leader Najib Razak, which was ejected from power in 2018.