Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was expelled on Thursday from the party he co-founded in 2016, as an alliance that in 2018 pulled off the only change of government in Malaysia’s history continued to implode amid bitter political battles.
The 94-year-old ex-leader was stripped of his membership in the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu) along with his son Mukhriz – who is the former chief minister of Kedah state – and three other senior party leaders, according to official termination letters dated May 28 and seen by BenarNews.
The party’s president and other co-founder, Muhyiddin Yassin, took over as Malaysia’s unelected prime minister in early March after Mahathir resigned as PM and his government collapsed, when Muhyiddin and other MPs quit Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan alliance to form a new government with other parties.
“[B]e informed that under clauses 10.2.2 and 10.2.3 of the Bersatu Party Constitution, your membership in the party is automatically dissolved,” according to each of the five letters signed by Muhammad Suhaimi Yahya, the party’s working secretary who was sacked from his party post later on Thursday.
The two clauses state that party members automatically lose their membership if they declare they are leaving the party, or if they have joined or become members of other political parties.
The other three officials who were expelled alongside Mahathir and his son were Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, Maszlee Malik and Amiruddin Hamzah, a political leader from Kedah.
Late Thursday, the five MPs pushed back against their expulsion.
“[I]t is very shallow and unreasonable to say that we have left the party when all we did was carry out what was allowed under the law and as enshrined under the Federal Constitution as legitimate Members of Parliament,” they said in a joint statement.
Apart from sitting separately from their Bersatu peers during a one-day parliamentary sitting on May 18, Mahathir had previously informed the House Speaker of his intention to call for a confidence vote against Muhyiddin during that session.
But the session was limited to a speech by the king, who had appointed Muhyiddin as PM. During his parliamentary address, the king called on MPs to practice “a clean political culture” and “show maturity in politics.”
“We are stating here that this unilateral decision by the Bersatu president in sacking us with no valid reason is because of his own fear in facing the party elections as well as his unsafe position as the most unstable prime minister in the history of our nation’s administration,” read the statement from Mahathir and the four other expelled party members.
Muhammad Suhaimi, the party official who signed their letters of termination, was later dismissed as its working secretary for an alleged ethical violation, according to a letter issued by Marzuki Yahya, Bersatu’s secretary-general who is aligned with Mahathir. Marzuki alleged that Muhammad Suhaimi had sent off the termination letters without his knowledge and consent.
On May 16, Mukhriz Mahathir lost his post as chief minister of Kedah after two assemblymen affiliated with the People’s Justice Party (PKR), a partner in the Pakatan Harapan alliance, defected to the other side, causing him to lose majority support in the state assembly.
Back in 2016, Mahathir and Muhyiddin joined forces to establish Bersatu as a new party in their effort to remove then-Prime Minister Najib Razak from office.
They had both criticized him over a massive corruption scandal stemming from state fund 1MDB that tainted Najib and his United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party, which had dominated Malaysian politics since the country’s founding in 1957.
Both Mahathir and Muhyiddin were former members of that party, but UMNO, which was ousted from power in the 2018 general election, is now a key member of Muhyiddin’s ruling Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance) bloc.
Since Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan ruling alliance collapsed in late February, Bersatu has been split between camps loyal to Muhyiddin’s new National Alliance (PN) coalition and Mahathir, with both factions insisting that they wield authority over the entire party.
The move to expel Mahathir, his son and the others from the party was expected, given the animosity between the elder statesman of Malaysian politics and the man who replaced him as PM, a political expert said.
“Muhyiddin sees the timing as suitable as he is now able to get rid of Mukhriz who is contesting against Muhyiddin for the party presidency as well as Mahathir who was running unopposed as the party chair,” Awang Azman Awang Pawi, an analyst from Universiti Malaya, told BenarNews.
The move may be a short-term win for Muhyiddin, but it could also lead to more partisan infighting, he said.
“It looks like Muhyiddin Yassin is burning bridges with Mahathir as he is planning to register PN as a formal coalition. From now on, it is full war,” James Chin, an expert in Malaysian politics with the University of Tasmania, told BenarNews.
Noah Lee and Nisha David in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.