Tommy Thomas, in his book My Story: Justice in the Wilderness, asserted that when Dr Mahathir Mohamad resigned as Prime Minister on 24 February 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 prime ministers resign, their cabinets usually stay. 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 raise the question whether Mahathir alone resigned or the cabinet resigned as well.
Perhaps, Article 43 (4) may throw some light.
43 (4) 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- Pertuan Agong 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-Pertuan Agong dissolves Parliament at the request of the prime minister.
It is a fact that Mahathir had not lost the confidence of Parliament. 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 wasn’t forced out. He gave up his position voluntarily. He didn’t 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 PM 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 24 February at 1 pm, at that point in time, Pakatan Harapan had an unassailable majority in Parliament. If he had honourably passed the baton to Anwar as was unanimously agreed, the PH government would have continued to govern the country. It wouldn’t have collapsed. He wouldn’t have been in this present mess.
Because he reneged on his word, and as there was a vacuum at that point in time, the ambitious, opportunistic politicians waiting in the wings for the right moment struck swiftly. Muhyiddin pulled out Bersatu from PH and Azmin Ali pulled out his gang from PKR.
It was Mahathir’s inexplicable and unforgiveable decision to resign unilaterally that caused the collapse of the duly elected people’s PH 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.