KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad on Friday vowed to challenge his shock dismissal from the political party he co-founded in 2016.
And the ex-PM also questioned the legal position of current Malaysian premier, Muhyiddin Yassin, as the party chair.
In a statement on Thursday, the ruling United Indigenous Party of Malaysia (Bersatu) said Mahathir’s membership had been “revoked with immediate effect.”
The next day Mahathir shared a message on social media from the party’s offices saying, “I am at the Bersatu headquarters. They say they want to expel me. I am waiting at the office.”
During a press conference at the same building on Friday, Mahathir said: “I am still the chairman (of Bersatu), please remember that, because when they tried to remove me (from the party) it was not valid.”
Other Members of Parliament also facing the sack are Mahathir’s son Mukhriz Mahathir, former youth and sports minister, Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, ex-education minister, Maszlee Malik, and Amiruddin Hamzah.
Mahathir has questioned the validity of the termination letter, sent to him by Bersatu’s executive secretary Muhammad Suhaimi Yahya, which said he had been dismissed as Bersatu chairman for breaching the party’s constitution during a parliamentary sitting on May 18. Muhammad claimed that Mahathir had sat with the opposition bloc instead of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) bloc led by Bersatu president Muhyiddin.
However, Mahathir said: “Where you sit (in the parliament) is not the cause for sacking.” He added that his actions had not violated the party’s constitution.
The cracks within Bersatu began in late February when the party was split into two camps – Mahathir and Muhyiddin – following an intense week of political mud-slinging which saw the resignation of Mahathir as PM and the appointment of Muhyiddin as the new Malaysian leader.
Mahathir slammed the May 18 parliamentary session as a sham, saying the only person allowed to speak was the Malaysian king. “We have been denied the right to speak in the parliament,” said Mahathir, adding that the seating arrangements went against the country’s democracy.
The government held the one-day parliamentary sitting instead of the usual months-long session as a precaution against the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. However, the country has started to open up its economy again and allowed most businesses to operate.
Malaysia’s current system of governance follows that of Britain, and according to Prof. James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at Australia’s Tasmania University, Muhyiddin had no choice but to sack Mahathir.
“You cannot have one party where one faction is in the government and another faction is in the opposition,” said Chin, adding that the dismissal would spark an “all-out war” between the two politicians.
“Obviously, Muhyiddin thinks there is no chance between him and Mahathir. Now that he has sacked Mahathir, it frees Mahathir from playing nice,” he said.
Dr. Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said: “Mahathir is going on the offensive. He would not sit there and take things as they come.”
Oh told Arab News that 94-year-old Mahathir was using his charismatic aura and undisputed respect of his party members to try to win the party’s will against Muhyiddin.
“Now we are seeing a double-headed leadership contesting against each other,” he added.
He noted that if Mahathir failed to gain party support, he might appeal to the Societies of Registry (ROS), or the courts. “If all avenues are exhausted, Mahathir may even set up a new political party or take over the leadership of an existing party,” said Oh.
Director of Bower Group Asia, Adip Zalkapli, said: “He won’t let the Malaysian prime minister rest.”
Muhyiddin already has his own party’s internal politics to deal with, as well as balancing power against the PN coalition members, specifically the United Malays National Organization. He is also facing a motion of no confidence from the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan.