Malaysian king meets more lawmakers to end political vaccum

The premiership has eluded Anwar Ibrahim, who teamed up with his former nemesis Mahathir Mohamad ahead of the 2018 elections to oust the government of Najib Razak. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 26 February 2020

Malaysian king meets more lawmakers to end political vaccum

  • The king’s role is largely ceremonial in Malaysia, but he appoints the person with majority support in Parliament as prime minister
  • Anwar Ibrahim and more than three dozen lawmakers from his party arrived at the palace Wednesday morning

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s king held unusual consultations with lawmakers for a second day Wednesday to resolve a political vacuum caused by the abrupt collapse of the ruling coalition and the resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
The king’s role is largely ceremonial in Malaysia, but he appoints the person with majority support in Parliament as prime minister.
Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah met with 83 lawmakers on Tuesday and is meeting the remaining 139 now to determine who they support as prime minister and if they want fresh elections.
Mahathir’s Bersatu party ditched the ruling alliance Monday but failed to form a new government with parties to thwart an agreed transition of power to Anwar Ibrahim.
The 94-year-old Mahathir resigned as premier and Bersatu chairman in what allies say was a protest of his party’s plan to work with the former corrupt regime that he had ousted in 2018 elections.
The departure of 37 lawmakers, including 11 from Anwar’s party, deprived the governing Alliance of Hope of majority rule and sparked a crisis less than two years after its election victory ousted a corrupt-tainted coalition that had ruled for 61 years.
The king dissolved the Cabinet but reappointed Mahathir as interim leader.
Anwar and more than three dozen lawmakers from his party arrived at the palace Wednesday morning in an open-top double-decker bus.
“God willing, may there be a good outcome for all,” Anwar tweeted.
The turmoil has strengthened Mahathir’s position, with both Anwar’s alliance and the defectors trying to grab power by supporting him as their leader. Some analysts said it could allow Mahathir’s comeback with a clean slate with Anwar still in the running for the top job.
“The (power transition) deal will have to be renegotiated, but support for Anwar among the (Alliance of Hope) remains strong and he remains the leading contender,” said Bridget Welsh, honorary research associate at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia.
The premiership eluded Anwar once two decades ago. Once a high-flying member of the former ruling coalition. Anwar was convicted of homosexual sodomy and corruption after a power struggle with Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years until 2003. He was freed in 2004 but was once again convicted for sodomy in 2015, charges that he said were concocted to destroy his political career.
Angered by a massive corruption scandal at a state investment fund, Mahathir made a political comeback and the two men forged an alliance that that ousted Prime Minister Najib Razak’s coalition, which had been in power since independence from Britain in 1957.
Anwar couldn’t participate in the 2018 elections because he was behind bars for a second sodomy conviction. But he was freed and pardoned by the king after the alliance won power. Mahathir initially said he expected to stay as prime minister for two years to clean up the government, but refused to set a firm timeline for passing the baton to Anwar.
Mahathir, the world’s oldest leader, has kept mum during the political debacle. He has been meeting with various political leaders and on Wednesday met with finance ministry officials about a stimulus plan to bolster the economy hurt by the COVID-19 illness.
Leaders from two opposition Malay parties, which jointly control a quarter of the parliamentary seats, have called for fresh elections. The United Malays National Organization, party of disgraced ex-premier Najib who is on trial for corruption, and a fundamentalist Islamic party with strong rural support, said they opposed Mahathir’s plan for a unity government that would include rival parties and a Cabinet that isn’t split based on party strength.
Analyst Welsh said their U-turn confirmed that Mahathir won’t work with them and that they think their best chances of getting into power are through elections.
“Elections are a real possibility, but after negotiations for a government don’t work out,” she added.


Trump signs $2 trillion recovery plan as US virus cases skyrocket

Updated 28 March 2020

Trump signs $2 trillion recovery plan as US virus cases skyrocket

  • American lawmakers hail the bill as a critical lifeline for workers and small businesses
  • The need for medical supplies is acute in New York state with 44,635 confirmed infections

Washington: President Donald Trump signed into law Friday the $2 trillion rescue plan to salvage a US economy crippled by the novel coronavirus, on a day the nation’s total count of COVID-19 cases surpassed 100,000.
Trump’s signature brings an end to a dramatic, weeklong legislative saga on Capitol Hill and triggers the distribution of millions of relief checks of up to $3,400 for an average American family of four.
Hours earlier lawmakers in the House of Representatives united to green-light the mega-plan as the number of recorded deaths from the virus hit 1,693.
“I want to thank Democrats and Republicans for coming together and putting America first,” Trump said.
“This will deliver urgently needed relief to our nation’s families, workers and businesses. That’s what this is all about.”
Trump signed a separate order late Friday allowing the Pentagon to bring former troops and members of the National Guard back to active duty to help the military combat the virus, the Washington Post said, citing a Pentagon spokesman.
The president also took the long-called-for step of invoking the Defense Production Act to compel auto giant General Motors to quickly honor its commitment to making ventilators, machines crucial to keeping critically ill coronavirus patients alive but which are in short supply in hospitals.
“GM was wasting time,” the president said.
Nationwide the number of coronavirus cases surpassed 104,000. The need for medical supplies is acute in New York state, the US hotbed of the epidemic where 44,635 infections have been confirmed.
The death toll there increased Friday to 519 — up from 385 the previous day — but Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed optimism that the increase in the hospitalization rate has slowed.
Cuomo announced the creation of temporary hospitals at large facilities in each borough of New York City — including at a horse racing track in Queens — modeled on an already-constructed space in Manhattan’s Javits Center.
The national rescue bill pumps $100 billion into hospitals and health facilities in critical need of medical gear like personal protective equipment and intensive care beds, creates a $500 billion loan reserve for large corporations including airlines, and provides $377 billion in grants to small businesses.
It also dramatically expands unemployment assistance, aid that will cushion the blow for a staggering 3.3 million people who filed jobless claims in the week ending March 21.


“Our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the worst pandemic in over 100 years,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told colleagues shortly before the chamber passed the measure.
Several lawmakers including top House Republican Kevin McCarthy hailed the bill as a critical lifeline for workers and small businesses.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pledged a speedy distribution of checks.
“Americans need that money now, they can’t wait for government to take three or four or six months like we normally do,” Mnuchin said on Fox Business Network, adding he expected direct deposits of the cash to arrive in three weeks.
US stocks sank Friday despite the legislative breakthrough. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 4.1 percent, the broad-based S&P 500 shed 3.4 percent and the tech-rich Nasdaq tumbled 3.8 percent.
The Senate had passed the huge bill earlier this week.
The vote in the House was notable for the implementation of social distancing rules that prevented lawmakers from all gathering on the floor, leading to unprecedented scenes of members sitting in the upper galleries to allow for sufficient spacing.
With the House in recess this week, leaders had wanted a quick voice vote requiring just a few members present.
But Republican Thomas Massie, who opposed the bill, threatened to stall the measure.
Ultimately the House defeated Massie’s maneuver and passed the legislation but not before Trump savaged his fellow Republican on Twitter as a “third rate Grandstander.”
Pelosi said the $2 trillion rescue plan — the third and by far largest coronavirus legislative measure — will not be the end of government assistance to battered communities.
“We must advance a fourth bill to address continued needs,” she said, noting that state and local governments would need “vastly more” funding to address the crisis.