Dr Mahathir’s resignation still as shocking as first time

K. Kabilan

Dr Mahathir Mohamad waving to supporters in Kuala Lumpur during his arrival home after going for a holiday in July 2002 a month after his shock resignation as prime minister at the Umno general assembly. – AFP pic, February 25, 2020.

WHEN Dr Mahathir Mohamad shocked the nation by announcing his resignation as the prime minister the first time around on June 22, 2002, he said in his memoirs that he had planned it for months.

“I kept it to myself. I did not tell anyone, not even (Siti) Hasmah,” he said in 2011.

Dr Mahathir announced his well-guarded secret in his closing speech at the Umno general assembly. It was 5.50pm on June 22, 2002.

The speech was telecast live over television and the nation had an exclusive knowledge over Dr Mahathir’s resignation.

Umno leaders at PWTC reacted with disbelief and tears. Leaders, such as Wanita head Rafidah Aziz and Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein rushed to the rostrum to console an already emotional Dr Mahathir.

Rafidah was heard asking: “Why, why, why?”

Over at the gallery, Dr Mahathir’s wife Dr Siti Hasmah Ali was caught on camera sitting stunned with mouth agape.

“The people around her nudged her to go down (to me) and get me to change my mind,” said Dr Mahathir.

He also shared his feelings while making the announcement.

“Before making the announcement, I had feared that I might break down, but what had happened was even worse. Despite having rehearsed my speech, when the moment came, I found I could not say the few sentences coherently.

“I shed tears shamelessly. I was not able to handle this great turning point in my life as I had intended.”

Calls for him to reconsider his decision came thick and fast. Then Umno permanent chairman Sulaiman Ninam Shah called the meeting to order and rejected Dr Mahathir’s decision to step down.

Two hours later, after cajoling him, his deputy Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Dr Mahathir had retracted his decision. By then Dr Mahathir had left the building.

Over the next few days, Umno and Barisan Nasional leaders continued to coax Dr Mahathir to remain the prime minister while the opposition then had called the entire episode a “sandiwara” (drama).

Dr Mahathir was adamant about wanting to quit and finally a decision was made – he set October 31, 2003 as his retirement date, allowing for a smooth transition to Abdullah.

He said the decision to step down then was because he felt he had done his best in the job and was mindful of his mother’s advice of never overstaying his welcome. He added that he felt he was still popular at that time but wanted to “contribute something different or extra during this quieter period of my life”.

When he handed over to Abdullah in 2003, it followed the arranged succession plan.

Dr Mahathir soon became disappointed with his chosen successor, setting off events which over 15 years, resulted in the rise and fall of Najib Razak and his own rise as the prime minister for the second time.

Eighteen years after his first shocking announcement, Dr Mahathir resigned again as the prime minister yesterday.

This time, there was no audience, no live television, no tears, at least publicly and most likely, no time to prepare his retirement.

Did he keep this decision a secret from his wife again? The jury is still out on that.

He, however, informed Pakatan Harapan leaders who met him at his residence earlier in the morning.

And the announcement was short and simple, a two-paragraph statement from the Prime Minister’s Department that he had sent his resignation letter to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong at 1pm.

It sounded as though he was just throwing in the towel, leaving his former partners in PH in shock. They, however, urged him to come back as prime minister. Meanwhile, the opposition parties were trying to turn the situation to their advantage.

The resignation led to an immediate collapse of PH. Anwar Ibrahim’s PKR and even Dr Mahathir’s own party, Bersatu, are also having their own internal problems with several lawmakers leaving the fold.

In a space of four days from the PH meeting last Friday, Dr Mahathir’s tenure as prime minister had gone from being “on his own terms” to “out of a job” yesterday.

The Agong accepted Dr Mahathir’s resignation after a meeting which lasted slightly more than an hour yesterday evening. The Agong, however, wants him to remain as the interim prime minister until a new appointment is made, along with a new cabinet.

Will the interim period change Dr Mahathir’s mind? Should Malaysians be surprised if he makes another come back as the prime minister?

The situation remains fluid, with so many permutations being speculated, but this time it seems clear that he has thrown in the towel for real. – February 25, 2020.

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