Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir sends resignation letter to king

King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah received the letter on Monday amid political upheaval

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 1, 2018, Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (R) and politician Anwar Ibrahim leave after a press conference in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian politics was in turmoil on February 24, 2020 after leader-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim denounced a "betrayal" by coalition partners he said were trying to bring down the government, two years after it stormed to victory. / AFP / Mohd RASFAN

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has submitted his resignation to the king, his office confirmed on Monday, amid talks of forming a new coalition to govern the country.

Mr Mahathir, 94, assumed office in May 2018 for his second stint as prime minister.

He sent his resignation after his Bersatu party announced it would leave Malaysia’s governing alliance, while 11 politicians from an allied party announced they were quitting.

The country's Minister of Home Affairs Muhyiddin Yassin, president of the Bersatu party, said the group held an emergency meeting on Sunday and decided to quit the four-member alliance that won a historic election in May 2018. It ousted the coalition that ruled since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.

Bersatu’s departure came after several weekend political manoeuvres sparked expectations Mr Mahathir’s party would team up with his former election rivals to form a new government and stop his named successor, Anwar Ibrahim, from taking power.

The pair were Malaysia’s top leaders during Mr Mahathir’s first term as prime minister, between 1981 and 2003, but they fell out politically before reuniting for the May 2018 election.

Their relationship has been testy, with Mr Mahathir refusing to set a date to relinquish power despite agreeing before the vote to hand over control to Mr Anwar.

On Sunday, Mr Anwar said there were attempts by some Bersatu members and “traitors” from his party to form a new government. But he said the situation was still fluid.

His party's deputy president and economics minister Azmin Ali, along with several politicians, including Mr Muhyiddin, met opposition leaders on Sunday at a hotel in a Kuala Lumpur suburb.

The moves could restore the Malay party of disgraced former prime minister Najib Razak to power. Mr Najib is among several of the party's leaders standing trial for corruption.

It could also propel to national power a Malay fundamentalist Islamic party that rules two states. The two parties still have strong support from ethnic Malays, who account for 60 per cent of the country’s population of 32 million.

Analysts said King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah could decide what faction has the majority of support in Parliament or call a snap election. They said such a new government could give rise to Malay Islamic supremacy that could derail the country’s multiethnic society.

“Mahathir’s top political priority is to stave off Anwar’s increasingly vigorous claim on the premiership. So he had to work with otherwise unsavoury opposition parties to form a working parliamentary majority to counter and warn off Anwar,” said Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

“If the new government goes through, Malaysia is heading towards a very regressive stage whereby racial supremacy and religious extremism would become the rule of the day.”