Thorn in the Flesh
Mahathir is challenging his dismissal from the Bersatu Party in an attempt to regain control of the government.
FORMER Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, is embroiled in a dispute over his removal from the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Malaysian United Indigenous Party), the political party he founded four years ago. “Dismissal from the party may be done not by the secretary-general, but only following a submission of complaint to the disciplinary commission and after the accused is given a chance of defense,” said Mahathir in a letter he uploaded to Twitter on June 2.
Four supporters who were fired alongside Mahathir from the Bersatu Party—as the party is commonly called—are also challenging their dismissal. They are Mukhriz Mahathir, Syed Saddiq ibn Syed Rahman, Datuk Wira Haji Amiruddin ibn Haji Hamzah, and Maszlee ibn Malik. Like Mahathir, they were sacked for not supporting Muhyiddin Yassin, president of the Bersatu Party who became prime minister in the National Alliance coalition government.
Their removal from the party is outlined in a letter issued on May 28, bearing the signature of Bersatu Party Secretary-General Muhammad Suhaimi Yahya. The letter states that Mahathir and his group had their membership terminated for not siding with the government, but rather the opposition of the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) during the House of Representatives meeting on May 18. Quoting the party’s constitution, Suhaimi said that those who switch parties would lose their membership.
The Bersatu Party was founded by Mahathir Mohamad on September 2016. The Malay-based party is mostly run by former members and activists of the ruling party in Malaysia, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO). Mahathir was the chairman, while Muhyiddin was the party’s president. Muhyiddin is a former vice president of UMNO and former deputy prime minister of Malaysia during Najib Razak’s reign.
At the May 2018 election, Bersatu joined the People’s Justice Party (PKR), National Trust Party, and Democratic Action Party (DAP) under the Pakatan Harapan coalition banner. This coalition gained a majority of votes, beating the National Front coalition led by UMNO, which ruled Malaysia for more than 60 years.
Pakatan announced Mahathir as prime minister, with Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as his deputy. As part of the coalition’s commitment, the office of prime minister would later be transferred to Anwar Ibrahim, who was released from prison days after Pakatan began governing.
Pakatan’s reign did not last long. Leaders of Bersatu were dissatisfied by the government which they view as allocating a larger portion of power to the DAP. During a supreme council meeting on February 23, leaders of the party decided to leave the ruling coalition and join the UMNO coalition. Mahathir objected, but his objection was dismissed.
After the meeting, Muhyiddin and Azmin Ali, leader of the PKR, met with a number of politicians from UMNO and the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). This meeting gave birth to the National Alliance. Bersatu Party then left the Pakatan coalition, while Azmin Ali left the PKR. As a result, Pakatan Harapan lost its majority in the parliament, leading to the collapse of the government.
Mahathir decided to quit from the party, but his resignation was rejected. Mahathir also resigned from his post as prime minister, officially ending the governance of Pakatan Harapan. Bersatu initially gave support to Mahathir as prime minister in the new government, while Pakatan proposed Anwar Ibrahim. But later Bersatu Party joined forces with UMNO and PAS, promoted Muhyiddin. King of Malaysia Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah appointed Muhyiddin as prime minister.
Despite the King’s decision, Mahathir remains questioning the validity of Muhyiddin’s appointment and requested a motion against him. On May 8, House Speaker Ariff Md. Yusof scheduled the motion to be discussed in the May 18 meeting, but that did not happen. Ariff said the agenda was changed due to concerns regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.
After the meeting, rumors of Mahathir’s sacking were rampant. The gossips turned out to be true. “Their action went against the party’s constitution, which automatically nullified their memberships,” said Muhyiddin Yasin.
Mahathir and the four other members of the party called their dismissal as a political strategy by Muhyiddin. “The unilateral move by the Bersatu president in sacking us without cause is due to his difficulties in the face of party elections, as well as his insecurity as the most unstable prime minister in the history of this country’s administration,” said Mahathir.