Dr Mahathir Mohamad today cited a constitutional amendment passed during his first term in power as he continued to question the controversial appointment of Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as deputy prime minister despite the criminal charges against the Umno president.
Mahathir, whose administration in 1993 removed the immunity of the rulers from criminal action, pointed to a provision in the constitution allowing even the Agong to cease his role as ruler if charged with an offence.
"It reads as follows: 'The Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall cease to exercise the functions of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong if charged with an offence'," Mahathir said, quoting Article 33A of the Federal Constitution.
"It is obvious that being charged with an offence is so serious that a person such as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong would cease to exercise the functions of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
"It does not say that he would have to be found guilty before His Majesty ceases to exercise his function. Being charged is clearly serious enough for the constitution to prescribe the cessation of his function," he added.
Zahid is facing 47 criminal charges related to the misuse of funds from charity foundation Yayasan Akalbudi. He was slapped with another 40 graft charges in the foreign visa case, of which he was acquitted earlier this year.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim nevertheless appointed the Umno president as his deputy, giving him in addition the important rural and regional development portfolio in the Cabinet.
Zahid was instrumental in pushing Anwar to the top post, successfully silencing protests from Umno leaders in order to join hands with the Pakatan Harapan chairman following the hung parliament in the aftermath of the Nov 19 polls.
Mahathir said earlier this month that Zahid's appointment showed that Malaysia does not hold to the rule of law.
"If we want to clean up the country, we cannot choose people who are considered to have committed crimes," he told reporters on Dec 7, days after the announcement of Anwar's Cabinet line-up.
"Yes, he has not yet been found guilty, but if someone is facing even one case in court, it is enough to show that he is not qualified to be a leader."
Mahathir today said that Zahid had nevertheless been given the second highest post in the country.
"Is the deputy prime minister a more senior functionary that he should be better treated than the Yang di-Pertuan Agong?
"There is a need for reform here, methinks," he said, before taking a jibe at critics who had urged him to retire.
"Okay. I will look after my grandchildren now. Just ignore this," he quipped.