Malaysia faces political uncertainty as PM Mahathir resigns

The move came amid squabbling over Mahathir handing over power to Anwar Ibrahim

Mahatir ap Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad | AP

Malaysia was plunged into political uncertainty on Monday as Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad submitted his resignation to the country's king.

The move came amid squabbling in the ruling coalition over Mahathir handing over power to Anwar Ibrahim, widely perceived as being his 'successor'.

On Sunday, factions of the 'Pact of Hope' coalition scrambled to form a government with support of opposition groups to thwart Anwar Ibrahim's ascent to power.

The Associated Press reported the proposed new coalition would have "excluded Anwar" and his lawmakers, effectively denying him the chance to ascend to the prime minister's post.

News emerged from the office of Mahathir Mohamad that he had sent his resignation to the king at 1pm on Monday. It is speculated Anwar could attempt to persuade the king that he has the backing of an adequate number of lawmakers to form a government.

Interestingly, Mahathir Mohamad's Bersatu Party announced it would be leaving the Pact of Hope, giving rise to speculation that it could attempt to form an alternate government.

The Associated Press reported, "… the proposed new government aimed at blocking Anwar would have included Mahathir's party, the United Malays National Organisation—the party of scandal-tainted ex-leader Najib Razak—and a hardline Islamist group".

Anwar Ibrahim was deputy prime minister to Mahathir Mohamad, but they fell out in 1998. Anwar was sacked in 1998 and was jailed the next year on charge of abuse of power; he was later convicted of sodomy. Anwar Ibrahim was released in 2004 and he led the opposition to much improved performances in the 2008 and 2013 elections. His acquittal was overturned in 2014 and he was jailed, only to be pardoned in 2018.

Anwar Ibrahim and Mahathir teamed up in 2018 to lead a shock defeat of the Najib Razak government. Mahathir returned to power, becoming the world's oldest prime minister. However, Mahathir had refused to say when he would transfer power to Anwar Ibrahim, leading to tension in the ruling coalition. In recent months, the Mahathir government's popularity had dipped over its perceived failure to raise living standards and address issues of the majority Malay Muslim community.

The BBC's South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head said Mahathir might not actually be ready to step down. "At 94, Mahathir Mohammad is still the master manipulator of Malaysian politics, and few believe he is ready to step down, despite the dramatic offer of resignation he's just sent to the country's constitutional monarch. It is possible, even likely, that Mr Mahathir will remain as prime minister,” Head explained.