Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has quit the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party in protest over the leadership of his successor Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, his son said yesterday.
“Mahathir has resigned from UMNO in protest over Pak Lah’s continued leadership as both the prime minister and president of UMNO,” Mokhzani Mahathir said, referring to Abdullah by his nickname.
“He will also write a letter to the UMNO secretary-general to inform him of his resignation,” he said, adding that Mahathir announced his departure during a speech yesterday in Alor Star, the capital of his home state Kedah.
“He made it clear at the gathering at Alor Star that he is resigning in protest over the current leadership,” he said.
Mahathir ruled Malaysia and the dominant UMNO for 22 years until 2003 when he handed power over to Abdullah, his hand-picked successor.
However in recent times he has been a vocal critic of Abdullah’s administration and since disastrous March general elections, which produced the UMNO’s worst ever results, has actively campaigned for him to step down.
News Web site Malaysiakini quoted Mahathir as urging UMNO ministers and party leaders to follow him by quitting, and return only if Abdullah departs.
“I will only come back to the party when there is a change in leadership,” it quoted him as telling the Alor Star gathering.
“Wait till Abdullah quits as the prime minister and party president and then we can return to UMNO,” he reportedly said.
Shahrir Samad, a Cabinet minister and senior UMNO member, said Mahathir’s surprise move could trigger a flurry of resignations that could force Abdullah to hold fresh general elections.
“By Tun doing this it could cause a situation where many other UMNO lawmakers might resign,” he said, using Mahathir’s honorific title. “If this happens then the government has no choice but to form a new government or call a fresh general election.”
“Certainly it is not helpful or constructive to the struggle of UMNO right now,” he said, as the party fends off a challenge from opposition figurehead Anwar Ibrahim who says he could soon seize power with the help of defectors.
Shahrir said that while Anwar was threatening to snatch lawmakers from the smaller parties with which the UMNO rules in coalition, Mahathir could chip away at the ranks of the ruling party itself.
“This will be a reduction of the number of UMNO lawmakers, which is the ruling party of the present government,” he said. “I suppose it is Mahathir’s way of trying to force a call for a referendum from the grass roots.”