Who resigned? Mahathir or the cabinet?

P Ramakrishnan, Malaysiakini

Tommy Thomas, in his book, My Story: Justice in the Wilderness, had asserted that when Dr Mahathir Mohamad resigned as prime minister on Feb 24, 2020, it was an individual decision.

“It must be kept in mind that Tun’s resignation was personal, only as prime minister. The resignation was confined to that office, not the entire government.”

He further claimed that when a prime minister resigns, the cabinet usually stays. In other words, since it was an individual’s decision to resign, the cabinet could not have been dissolved.

According to Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali, a criminal lawyer from the Selangor Bar, when a prime minister resigns from the post, constitutionally the cabinet would be dissolved too.

Muhammad Rafique claimed that when Mahathir resigned, it was clear he had lost the majority in the Dewan Rakyat, especially after Bersatu left the Pakatan Harapan coalition together with several MPs from PKR.

These conflicting views raised the question as to whether Mahathir alone resigned or the cabinet resigned as well.

Perhaps, Article 43 (4) of the Federal Constitution may throw some light.

Article 43 (4) states that if the prime minister ceases to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives, then, unless at his request the Yang di- PertuanAgong dissolves Parliament, the prime minister shall tender the resignation of the Cabinet.

According to the above provision, the prime minister only tenders the resignation of the cabinet when he has lost the confidence of the House or when the Yang di-PertuanAgong dissolves Parliament at the request of the prime minister.

It is a fact that Mahathir had not lost the confidence of Parliament. The Parliament did not vote him out. Parliament was not in session for this to take place. Therefore, there was no loss of confidence requiring him to resign. And that is the fine point which defined the entire situation that unfolded.

In the event he was voted out, then he would be obliged to tender the resignation of the cabinet. But that situation was not present for him to tender the resignation of the cabinet. The prevailing circumstance did not warrant him to resign. There was no compelling reason whatsoever for him to embark on this course of action.

The other situation was also not present for him to resign. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong did not dissolve Parliament at the request of the prime minister. So there was no occasion for the prime minister to act and tender the resignation of the cabinet.

As such, the only conclusion is that Mahathir vacated his position on his own volition. He was not forced out. He gave up his position voluntarily. He did not want to be a prime minister any more. It is as simple as that.

The government was not voted out. Therefore, the cabinet was not ousted.

In other words, the cabinet was intact and the government had the majority to continue governing.

Under Article 43(4), the requirements mentioned for the prime minister to resign and submit the cabinet’s resignation were not met for this clause to come into effect.

When Mahathir presented his letter of resignation on Feb 24, 2020 at 1pm, at that point in time, Pakatan Harapan had the unassailable majority in Parliament. And if he had honourably passed the baton to Anwar Ibrahim as was unanimously agreed, the Harapan government would have continued to govern the country. It would not have collapsed. He will not be in this present mess.

Because he reneged on his word, and as there was a vacuum at that point in time, the ambitious and opportunistic politicians waiting in the wings for the right moment struck swiftly. Muhyiddin pulled out Bersatu from Harapan and Azmin Ali pulled out his gang from PKR.

It was Mahathir’s inexplicable and unforgivable decision to resign unilaterally that caused the collapse of the duly elected people’s Harapan government.

We are in this disarray because one man, one man alone, through his foolhardiness brought down a government that took 61 years to be elected by defeating the monolithic Barisan Nasional, when he chose to resign unilaterally.

His action dashed our hopes, crushed our dreams and ruined our country. He will not be forgiven for this betrayal of the peoples’ mandate and their trust.