Malaysia's Mahathir, 95, forms new party to fight old ally

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AP) — Two-time former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced Friday he is forming a new ethnic Malay party more than two months after he was sacked from his previous party during a political struggle with his successor.

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Mahathir, 95, quit as prime minister in protest in late February after fellow party member Muhyiddin Yassin withdrew their Bersatu party from the ruling coalition, triggering its collapse less than two years after a historic victory in 2018 national polls.

Muhyiddin was sworn in as new prime minister in March with a new government supported by ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak's corruption-tainted party that was ousted in 2018.

Mahathir, who was sacked from Bersatu along with his son and three other senior members, said Muhyiddin had hijacked the party and helped revive what he called a kleptocratic government.

He accused Muhyiddin of using money to buy support in Bersatu, causing it to stray from its goal of fighting graft. Mahathir said he believes many grassroots members are unhappy and still support him.

“We feel that we must continue our fight and that is why we are forming a new party," Mahathir said at a news conference. He didn't reveal the name of the party but said its main agenda will be similar to Bersatu's original struggle to eradicate corruption and kleptocracy.

Mahathir said the new party will be independent and not align with the opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim, who was initially slated to succeed him in their previous government.

Mahathir, who ruled for 21 years until 2003, made a comeback in 2018 polls to help Anwar's alliance defeat Najib's coalition that had ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain in 2018. He became prime minister before resigning in February.

Najib, his wife and several senior officials from his party have been charged with multiple counts of corruption since their defeat in the 2018 polls. Najib was sentenced late last month to serve 12 years in prison in his first trial linked to a massive financial scandal, though the sentence has been stayed while he appeals. He faces four other trials and insists the cases against him are political vengeance.

Mahathir's announcement Friday comes amid a disagreement with Anwar's alliance over the choice of their prime ministerial candidate. Mahathir has rejected Anwar's candidacy and supported another politician.

Analysts said Muhyiddin faces pressure from allied parties to call for early elections because his unelected government has only a two-seat majority in Parliament. It will not be an easy call for Muhyiddin because his party is dwarfed by Najib's Malay party in the coalition. Elections are not due until 2023.

In separate remarks to Indian broadcaster WION News aired Friday, Mahathir hailed Najib’s conviction and sentence. He said it showed that those in power who commit crimes cannot escape scot-free.

“We feel this is something that Malaysia can be proud of because we have managed to have people of high standing being tried in the court of law,” Mahathir said. “He was found guilty on all seven charges that were placed against him. So, that for us is very important. We now feel safe. We don’t think that there can be people who can commit some crime and get away with it.”

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