Mahathir, Anwar vie for power again

Published February 27, 2020
Their notoriously stormy relationship has shaped Malaysian politics ever since Mahathir sacked Anwar as his deputy. — AFP/File
Their notoriously stormy relationship has shaped Malaysian politics ever since Mahathir sacked Anwar as his deputy. — AFP/File

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia was plunged into a bitter power struggle on Wednesday as Mahathir Mohamad sought to form a unity government following his shock resignation, but old foe Anwar Ibrahim also pushed to become premier.

The developments deepened a crisis that began when the ruling coalition — which included both men when it stormed to a historic poll victory in 2018 — fell apart after a failed bid to establish a new government without Anwar.

Anwar was Mahathir’s designated successor, but he would likely have been pushed out and blocked from becoming leader if the weekend bid had succeeded.

Their notoriously stormy relationship has shaped Malaysian politics ever since Mahathir — during a first stint in office in the 1990s — sacked Anwar as his deputy, and he was jailed on dubious sodomy and corruption charges.

They reconciled ahead of the 2018 polls to oust a corruption-plagued coalition led by Najib Razak, but many were sceptical Mahathir — at 94, the world’s oldest leader —would stick to a vow to hand power to Anwar.

Mahathir quit on Monday as premier but it remains unclear whether he had a hand in the plot to topple the government, although analysts suspect he at least gave it his blessing. He has been named interim leader and initially appeared to have strong support to remain as premier.

But backing fell away early Wednesday and rumours swirled Anwar had garnered enough support from MPs for the top job, fuelling expectations that Mahathir might finally cede power.

The elderly leader, however, announced in a televised address to the nation that he wished to establish a unity government, and was willing to return as premier.

“Party politics must be put aside for now,” said Mahathir. “If allowed, I will try to form an inclusive government, not siding with any political parties.” “If I still have the support I will return. If not I will accept whoever is chosen,” he added.

Moments later at a press conference at his party headquarters, Anwar said he had received backing from three parties in the “Pact of Hope” coalition — the grouping in power until Mahathir quit — to become premier.

Anwar, 72, said the coalition had invited Mahathir to a meeting on Tuesday evening aimed at reviving the coalition, but after he failed to show they decided to put him forward as their candidate.

“Since the attempt to topple the government last week we have remained steadfast in defending the mandate of the Malaysian people,” he said. After reading a statement, he added: “We leave it to the palace to decide”.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2020

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