Malaysia’s ruling party accepted former leader Mahathir Mohamad’s resignation yesterday as government lawmakers snubbed his call to leave with him in a bid to force a leadership change.
Mahathir dropped a political bombshell on Monday by announcing he was quitting the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party.
He said he would rejoin if Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi resigns.
But after a four-hour emergency session that ended early yesterday, the party said Mahathir is free to leave. Abdullah has repeatedly said he will not quit immediately.
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters the party will accept Mahathir if he wants to come back, but will not bow to his demands. He said Abdullah has the full support of lawmakers from UMNO and its junior partners in the ruling National Front coalition.
“We do not anticipate an exodus from UMNO. Our party members are very loyal to UMNO. Any problems will be resolved within UMNO,” he told reporters after a meeting of top party leaders.
“We have accepted the decision [by Mahathir] because it is his desire to leave the party. But we hope that he will return one day,” Najib said.
Despite the show of support, Abdullah has his back to the wall.
Many political analysts say his days are numbered because of simmering anger against him within the party.
“The discontent is huge,” said Mohammad Agus Yusoff, head of the political science program at the National University of Malaysia.
So far, it is just a “silent protest,” but party members will be emboldened by Mahathir’s move, he said, adding that support for the former prime minister is still entrenched in UMNO.
Abdullah’s troubles began after the National Front, which is dominated by UMNO, suffered its worst electoral result in March 8 general elections. It lost its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament — scraping through with a simple majority — and ceded control of five of Malaysia’s 13 states to the opposition.
The massive losses and the internal troubles caused by Mahathir have increased chances for the three-party opposition coalition, led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, to form the next government.
Anwar said in Singapore on Wednesday that he, too, was looking to topple Abdullah. His coalition has 82 seats in the 222-member Parliament, 30 short of the number needed to form a government.
“I look forward to early elections, hopefully before September,” Anwar said.