|May 19, 08 2:39pm
|In the wake of the shocking news that former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had quit Umno, a senior party leader said that the country could face another general elections.
Shahrir Samad, the minister for domestic trade and consumer affairs, said Mahathir’s surprise move could trigger a flurry of resignations from the embattled party that could force Abdullah to hold fresh general elections.
“By Tun doing this it could cause a situation where many other Umno lawmakers might resign,” he said, using Mahathir’s honorific title.
“If this happens then the government has no choice but to form a new government or call a fresh general election,” Shahrir told AFP.
“Certainly it is not helpful or constructive to the struggle of Umno right now,” he said, as the party fends off a challenge from opposition figurehead Anwar Ibrahim who says he could soon seize power with the help of defectors.
Shahrir, who is Johor Baru parliamentarian and Umno supreme council member, said that while Anwar was threatening to snatch lawmakers from the smaller parties with which Umno rules in coalition, Mahathir could chip away at the ranks of the ruling party itself.
“This will be a reduction of the number of Umno lawmakers which is the ruling party of the present government,” he said.
“I suppose it is Mahathir’s way of trying to force a call for a referendum from the grassroots.”
The Star’s website quoted Umno information chief Muhammad Muhammad Taib as saying he was surprised at Mahathir’s abrupt departure.
“Every member has the right to join or leave the party,” he said.
Asked whether Umno would convene an emergency meeting in response to the move, he said that “we will wait and see”.
Son: Mahathir to send letter to Umno sec-gen
Mahathir, 82, joined Umno at its inception in 1946 and he has weathered a number of storms including his expulsion from the party in 1969 and a 1988 crisis when Umno was declared illegal.
“Mahathir has resigned from Umno in protest over Pak Lah’s continued leadership as both the prime minister and president of Umno,” Mokhzani Mahathir told AFP, referring to Abdullah by his nickname.”He will also write a letter to the Umno secretary-general to inform him of his resignation,” he said, adding that Mahathir announced his departure during a speech today in Alor Star, the capital of his home state Kedah.
“He made it clear at the gathering at Alor Star that he is resigning in protest over the current leadership,” he said.
Mahathir ruled Malaysia and the dominant Umno for 22 years until 2003 when he handed over to Abdullah, his hand-picked successor.
However in recent times he has been a vocal critic of Abdullah’s administration and since disastrous March general elections, which produced Umno’s worst ever results, has actively campaigned for him to step down.