Malaysian king intervenes after Mahathir's resignation

Malaysian king intervenes after Mahathir's resignation
King Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 25 February 2020

Malaysian king intervenes after Mahathir's resignation

Malaysian king intervenes after Mahathir's resignation
  • Mahathir on Tuesday met leaders from the PKR, BERSATU, the United Malays National Organisation, PAS and others

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s king has intervened to stabilize the government following Monday’s shock resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
King Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shahis conducting personal interviews with 222 members of parliament at his palace in an unprecedented move.
He does not have any political power under Malaysia’s constitutional monarchy system, but will be able to deduce from the interviews which lawmaker has the most support in parliament to become prime minister.
“Let me do the duties, I hope we will find the best solution for the country,” King Abdullah told the media.Rumors of a power transition began to swirl over the weekend when MP Azim Ali held separate meetings with Mahathir, as well as with opposition parties Barisan Nasional and the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).
The exit of 11 MPs from the People’s Justice Party (PKR) and the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (BERSATU) from the Pakatan Harapan coalition, as well as Mahathir's resignation, led to the breakup of the alliance and left Malaysia without a government as it no longer commanded a majority.
Mahathir, who was appointed interim prime minister by the king, returned to office on Tuesday to chart the next course of action for the new government coalition.
The Comptroller of the Royal Household Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin said all MPs would be invited for a personal interview by the monarch.
“The interview will be brief, within two to three minutes,” Shamsuddin said, adding that the whole process would be overseen by the chief secretary to the government, Mohammed Zuki bin Ali.
Ninety MPs travelled to the palace on Tuesday afternoon for the interview, with the remaining scheduled to meet the king on Wednesday.
“We will be transparent about the processes to avoid any media speculation,” Shamsuddin said.
The royal intervention was viewed as the right move for Malaysia at such a critical juncture, according to one expert.
“It is perhaps the best way for the king to determine whether the prime minister has the support of the majority of the MPs,” Adib Zalkapli, director of BowerGroupAsia, told Arab News. “The Pakatan Harapan coalition has collapsed and the king is exercising his majesty’s powers in the formation of the new government,” Zalkapli said.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the upheaval and horsetrading is the apparent isolation of Anwar Ibrahim, Mahathir’s anointed successor and prime-minister-in-waiting.
Anwar had teamed up with his former nemesis Mahathir ahead of the 2018 elections to oust the government of Najib Razak but said on Sunday he had been betrayed by his coalition partners.
Mahathir on Tuesday met leaders from the PKR, BERSATU, the United Malays National Organisation, PAS and others.
The political whirlwind has led to uncertainty in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s administrative center. One civil servant, who chose not to be named, told Arab News: “Unfortunately, I don’t really know much about what’s happening. We are all waiting for news as well.”
Political scientist Prof. Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, from the National University of Malaysia, said that the interim period would be a boon for Mahathir and his long-held agenda to bring back a Malay, ethnic-led plural society nation.
"Before this, since 1987, he has continuously split the Malays. Now he unites them at the end of his life, before the next general elections,” he told Arab News.
Mahathir’s resignation sent shockwaves through the country’s economy, with the stock exchange tumbling to its lowest point in 10 years.
The upheaval also means that the economic stimulus package which was supposed to be unveiled by the now-dissolved government this week has been put on hold, effectively leaving the country in limbo as far as major decision-making is concerned.
“I think his (the king’s) immediate role is to stabilise the government – to send a message that it is business as usual and that a new, stable government could be formed as soon as possible,” Zalkapli said, adding that a large number of MPs wanted the uncertainty to end soon. “Common sense will prevail.”


World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

Updated 38 min 42 sec ago

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row
  • Letter sent to Afghan president comes amid corruption claims linked to new government controls on public-private partnerships

KABUL: The World Bank has threatened to close the taps on $200 million worth of aid to Afghanistan if Kabul fails to share banking sector data.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance on Wednesday said that the World Bank had warned the country’s President Ashraf Ghani that it would halt its assistance if the information was not forthcoming.
In a letter dated Nov. 23, Henry G. Kerali, the World Bank’s country director for Afghanistan, mentioned issues that “remain to be resolved” and “may impact” the bank’s capacity to disburse the full amount of $200 million.
The issues included the World Bank’s inability to obtain banking data from Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), the country’s central bank.
“The letter has actually been addressed to the president, and copies of it have been sent to relevant offices. The issue will be resolved in the coming week,” finance ministry spokesman, Shamroz Khan Masjidi, told Arab News.
“In the past, we would have shared a number of non-sensitive banking data with the World Bank. Now, a misunderstanding has appeared with the central bank which has not shared it with it (the World Bank) … the issue will be resolved.” The World Bank’s Kabul office declined to comment on whether the letter, a copy of which has been seen by Arab News, was a warning to Ghani. In an equivocal statement issued on Wednesday, the lender said: “No letter from the World Bank to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has been released to the public.” Ghani’s spokesman declined comment.
The World Bank’s purported threat comes amid complaints over increasing corruption after the presidential palace in recent months took control of public-private partnerships (PPP) from the Ministry of Finance through amendments to the country’s PPP law.
Reliant on international assistance, Afghanistan is considered one of the most corrupt countries.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the US government’s leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction, in a letter on Nov. 11 said that the Afghan government “often makes paper reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than concrete actions that would reduce corruption, such as arresting powerful actors.” Even Ghani’s brother, Hashmat Ghani, spoke against the PPP law move. “Taking away PPP office and authority from the finance ministry has been a mistake. It should be reversed immediately,” he said in a tweet on Thursday.
Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan and International Monetary Fund adviser, said the World Bank’s letter was “not a good signal” for Afghanistan.
“The reason for which it is interrupting the payment is that the president wants to move a number of important state-owned enterprises and the management of PPP to the palace where there is no oversight of the parliament at the palace as opposed to the ministry (Finance Ministry),” he told Arab News.
“So, this is how corruption creeps in, and the international community is worried about what is going on and the World Bank expresses it in a diplomatic language in this letter.” Sediq Ahmad Usmani, a lawmaker from the parliamentary financial affairs committee, said: “The executive power, particularly, the presidency, has created another government of its special circle which deals with appointments and budget’s expenses. All the power lies with the president and without his knowledge they cannot do anything.” “This has been our concern and we have shared it with the donors and have asked them to prevent such wayward acts,” he added.
Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, denied the existence of any “circle” under the president. “These MPs, I am sure they know the whole process and the authority of government officials and the president on budget spending. Budget issues must not be politicized.
“The government sends details of the budget to the parliament in a very transparent way and they have the legal right to oversee the spending. It is an open budget system, there is no circle.”