This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily on March 2, 2020
KUALA LUMPUR: Shock, anger, confusion and trepidation.
These are just some of the emotions that Malaysians experienced in the past week, as the country was plunged into an unprecedented political crisis, following the Pakatan Harapan government’s collapse with the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) leaving the coalition and an 11-man defection at PKR, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s shock resignation as the prime minister and the subsequent political wrangling.
Since Feb 21 evening, the signals were all there that something was brewing when Pakatan had a presidential council meeting to discuss the power transition between Dr Mahathir and PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
However, the meeting, supposed to end at 10.30pm but concluded only near midnight after reporters camped outside the meeting venue for about three hours, ended with a rather anti-climatic announcement from Dr Mahathir.
“I have said I will step down after Apec (the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum) — no time, no date, no nothing. Only after Apec. It is up to me — whether I want to let go or I do not want to let go. That is the belief the coalition has shown me ... You are all wasting your time. Go back to sleep,” he said.
Two days later, what is now notoriously referred to as the “Sheraton move” took place, leading to the Pakatan government’s ousting. Here are the highlights that dramatically changed Malaysia’s political landscape in the past one week.
Feb 23 (Sunday)
• Bersatu’s supreme council meets, with Dr Mahathir chairing the meeting. Umno leaders also calls for an emergency supreme council meeting.
• Barisan Nasional (BN), Bersatu, PAS and a splinter faction of PKR led by Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali gathers for a “special meeting” at Sheraton Hotel in Petaling Jaya. The gathering is now referred to as the “Sheraton Move”, with those present said to have plotted to topple the Pakatan government and replace it with a new coalition named “Perikatan Nasional” comprising Umno, Pas, Bersatu, MCA, MIC and some PKR defectors.
• Anwar confirms a betrayal of Pakatan. In a Facebook livestream, he says several Bersatu and PKR members have defected.
Feb 24 (Monday)
• Dr Mahathir submits his resignation as prime minister to the Agong and quits as Bersatu chairman.
• Bersatu exits Pakatan; Mohamed Azmin leads 11 members of Parliament’s (MPs) exodus from PKR, declaring themselves an independent bloc.
• Agong accepts Dr Mahathir’s resignation, appoints him as interim prime minister until a new prime minister is appointed and a new Cabinet formed.
• The Pakatan government collapses; the palace says the King has revoked all cabinet ministers’ appointments.
• DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng says the party still wants Dr Mahathir as prime minister.
• Anwar says Dr Mahathir is not the mastermind behind the treacherous act to create a new coalition government, claiming the real perpetrators used his name to advance their agenda.
• Bersatu convenes an emergency meeting at its headquarters, rejects Dr Mahathir’s resignation.
Feb 25 (Tuesday)
• Reports quoting sources say Dr Mahathir wants a unity government.
• Dr Mahathir issues statement saying he is meeting various political parties’ leaders.
• The palace says Agong will interview all 222 MPs over two days to determine who commands the majority of the Dewan Rakyat to become the next prime minister.
• BN and PAS oppose the idea of a unity government, withdraw support for Dr Mahathir as prime minister and call for snap polls.
• Pakatan says its remaining parties (PKR, DAP and Amanah) will remain as a coalition.
• Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) says all its 18 MPs support Dr Mahathir and that this was conveyed to the Agong and Dr Mahathir.
Feb 26 (Wednesday)
• Agong concludes interviews with all 222 MPs.
• In a live telecast address, Dr Mahathir seeks support for a non-partisan unity government to administer the country “in the people’s best interest”.
• Dr Mahathir also says he resigned as prime minister because he could not accept Umno as the dominant party in the new government, after Bersatu left Pakatan to join hands with Umno and PAS.
• Pakatan endorses Anwar as its prime minister candidate.
Feb 27 (Thursday)
• Dr Mahathir announces an economic stimulus package; says the Agong could not find anyone with a clear majority to be the next prime minister and that Dewan Rakyat will be called to sit on March 2 to ascertain who has the majority support.
• Pakatan says it is inappropriate for Dr Mahathir to make an announcement on the prime minister and that it is the King’s prerogative.
• Bersatu supreme council member Datuk Redzuan Md Yusof says the party is backing Muhyiddin as the next prime minister.
• Dr Mahathir says he agreed to return as Bersatu chairman.
Feb 28 (Friday)
• Agong has a special meeting with Malay rulers to formulate a resolution to the country’s political crisis.
• The palace says Agong is unconvinced that any previously-named candidates have the majority of MPs’ support to form a new government, will speak with political party leaders on their nominees for prime minister.
• Bersatu nominates Muhyiddin as its prime minister candidate, saying this was decided at a meeting attended by 36 Bersatu MPs that it did not name. Before that, Bersatu only had 26 MPs. It is said that Mohamed Azmin’s gang — except for Ranau MP Jonathan Yasin, reportedly absent from the meeting — is the new addition to the tally.
• Attorney-General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas resigns, The Edge reports, citing sources.
• Speaker Tan Sri Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof rejects a request for a special Dewan Rakyat meeting on March 2 to decide on the next prime minister as the notification letter did not follow house rules.
Feb 29 (Saturday)
• Pakatan once again backs Dr Mahathir as its prime minister candidate; Dr Mahathir reiterates he will not cooperate with “individuals known to be corrupt” from the previous administration.
• Bersatu is divided as Muhyiddin claims he is now acting chairman, while the party’s secretary-general says Bersatu’s leadership remains under Dr Mahathir as chairman.
• Bersatu MP Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir says six Bersatu MPs are backing Dr Mahathir, questions whether Muhyiddin actually has the majority support.
• Warisan, with nine MPs, reiterates its support for Dr Mahathir as prime minister.
• Muhyiddin, with several party leaders aligned to Perikatan Nasional, seeks an audience with the Agong.
• The palace says the Agong will appoint Muhyiddin as the eighth prime minister at 10.30am on Sunday, March 1.
• Dr Mahathir says he has 114 MPs’ support and that he will write to the Agong to explain the support he has garnered.
• Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), with 18 MPs, says it is now supportive of Muhyiddin and friendly to the latter’s Perikatan Nasional, but GPS is not part of this coalition.
March 1 (Sunday)
• Dr Mahathir says the Agong has denied him an audience to prove his claim and that he feels betrayed by Muhyiddin.
• Muhyiddin takes oath as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister.
• Pakatan, backed by 112 lawmakers now, calls for the next Parliament sitting to resume as scheduled on March 9 to determine who has the real majority support to be prime minister.
• Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg says GPS supported Dr Mahathir until he decided to resign as prime minister and Bersatu chairman.