Interim prime minister reunites with Pakatan Harapan coalition partner Anwar Ibrahim but political turmoil not yet over.
Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad has said he has agreed to be the prime ministerial candidate for the former ruling coalition, less than a week after he quit and plunged the country into turmoil.
“I am now confident that I have the numbers needed to garner majority support,” Mahathir said in a statement on Saturday.
That meant that Mahathir, who is the world’s oldest government leader at 94, will reunite with on-off ally and long-term rival Anwar Ibrahim, 72, resuming a pact that swept the coalition to a surprise election victory in 2018.
“Pakatan Harapan states its full support towards Dr Mahathir as candidate for prime minister,” said a statement from the coalition formed by the two men whose struggle has shaped Malaysian politics for two decades.
Anwar also posted the statement, which declares that the coalition “will continue to fight” for its principles in government, on social media.
Mahathir has thus likely secured the support he needs to return as prime minister full-time, less than a week after he resigned and was appointed as interim leader.
The political futures of both Mahathir and Anwar had appeared in doubt on Friday, with Anwar competing as a candidate in his own right and Mahathir finding little support for a unity government that would have strengthened his power.
A new alliance had formed behind former interior minister Muhyiddin Yassin, 72, who had the backing of the old governing party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
Mahathir and Anwar had united in 2018 to drive that party, tarnished by corruption, from power; at the time it was led by then-Prime Minister Najib Razak, who now faces corruption charges.
On Friday, Mahathir’s party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, made a surprise announcement endorsing Muhyiddin as the next prime minister.
Then on Saturday, the party, also known as Bersatu, announced that Mahathir is no longer its chairman following his resignation from the position on February 24. But the statement did not say whether or not Mahathir has also been dismissed from the party.
“Pakatan only has one candidate that could win the support of the majority of the MPs, Mahathir not Anwar,” analyst Adib Zalkapli of Bower Group Asia told Reuters news agency.
“Anwar will have to fight another day. Today is all about stopping UMNO and PAS from returning to government,” he added referring to the dominant opposition party and its coalition partner seeking to take over power with the help of some members of Mahathir’s own party, Bersatu.
No date for handover to Anwar
Tension had persisted between Mahathir and Anwar over the prime minister’s promise to hand over power to the younger politician one day. No date for that was ever set.
Neither Mahathir nor Pakatan Harapan made any mention of that promise in Saturday’s statements.
A failed bid by Mahathir’s supporters to form a new government without his designated successor, Anwar, and Mahathir’s shock resignation on Monday broke apart the ruling alliance less than two years after it defeated the corruption-tainted Barisan Nasional coalition that had led the country for 61 years.
The infighting renewed the political rivalry between Mahathir and Anwar, which stretches back more than 20 years.
On Thursday, Mahathir had announced that a special session of parliament will be convened on Monday to elect the next prime minister.
But the speaker of parliament and the country’s monarch contradicted that statement, saying that only the king had the power to reconvene the parliament.
With Mahathir’s latest announcement, it remains unclear whether the March 2 special session will happen.