Old foes Mahathir and Anwar spar over vacant Malaysian premiership – dpa international


Supporter of Anwar Ibrahim holds up a mask of his hero outside Kuala Lumpur High Court in Jan. 2012 (Simon Roughneen)

Malaysia’s former leader Mahathir Mohamad said on Wednesday that he was open to returning as prime minister but faces a stiff challenge from ally-turned-foe Anwar Ibrahim.

“If it’s true that I’m still supported I’ll be back. Otherwise I will accept whoever is selected,” Mahathir, 94, said.

Mahathir, who is interim prime minister until a new government is formed, made the comments during his first speech since his shock resignation on Monday.

Earlier on Wednesday, Anwar supporters said that 92 lawmakers back his bid to become prime minister, 20 short of the majority needed to form a government.

In a press conference shortly after Mahathir’s speech, 72-year-old Anwar said Mahathir was invited to a meeting of three of the four former governing coalition parties on Tuesday to discuss restoring the government that fell the previous day.

Neither Mahathir nor his Bersatu party, which quit the alliance on Monday, attended the meeting. In response, the alliance stated on Wednesday that its candidate for prime minister is Anwar.

Mahathir had promised Anwar – who he had jailed after a late-1990s falling-out – that he could take over as prime minister in May 2020, after the two men reconciled to lead the opposition alliance to a shock election win in 2018.

But Mahathir later said he wanted to stay on longer, leading Anwar to suspect a plot to prevent his succession.

Anwar declined to say on Wednesday if he has enough support among parliamentarians to become prime minister, stating that “we have left that to the discretion of the agong (Malaysia’s king).”

In an unprecedented move, King Abdullah has been meeting all 222 lawmakers over the past two days in an apparent attempt to assess if any faction has the numbers to form a government.

Malaysia’s constitution stipulates that the king may nominate a prime minister if he deems any candidate “likely to command the confidence of the majority of the MPs” – which in practice usually means the leader of the winning side in parliamentary elections.

Mahathir earlier said that Malaysia’s parliament, where 112 seats out 222 are needed for a majority, could be the venue to decide the make-up the next government.

After days of intrigue, with parties holding multiple meetings amid speculation about shifting alliances, Mahathir suggested that “party politics” be “put aside for the time being” and a national unity government be formed – and said that he was willing to lead it despite just stepping down.

Mahathir said he is hoping for “an administration that is not sided with any party.” While Anwar was not mentioned in his statement, Mahathir said he would not form a government with the United National Malays Organisation (UMNO), his former party that he helped remove from power in 2018 elections.

On Tuesday, after saying they would not take part in any unity government that involved the Chinese-Malaysian dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), which was a key component of the government that fell on Monday, the UMNO and other opposition parties called for snap parliamentary elections to resolve the impasse.

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