Mahathir Mohamad said that he will replace the Prime Minister of Malaysia on behalf of the former ruling coalition, less than a week after leaving the country and plunging the country into political turmoil.
Mahathir – who as the interim prime minister is the oldest government leader at 94 – reunited with the on-off ally and longtime rival Anwar Ibrahim, 72, taking back a pact that swept their coalition to a surprise election victory in 2018.
The move avoided a showdown between men whose struggle has shaped Malaysian politics for two decades, but which risked putting both of them aside and returning the former party to power overshadowed by the corruption they defeated.
“I am now confident that I have the numbers needed to win majority support,” Mahathir said in a statement.
Anwar said he would tell the monarch of Malaysia that Mahathir was now the first ministerial candidate of the Pakatan Harapan coalition.
Anwar thanked the members of the coalition for agreeing with his decision “to step back and present Mahathir as our prime minister candidate in order to avoid a political crisis and to be thrown into the old system that we have rejected. “.
The political future of both men appeared in doubt on Friday, with Anwar competing as a full-fledged candidate and Mahathir finding little support for a unity government that would strengthen his power.
A new alliance had formed behind former interior minister Muhyiddin Yassin, 72, who had the support of the old ruling party, the United Malays National Organization (Umno) and the Islamist PAS party.
It was Umno’s ruling coalition that Mahathir and Anwar joined forces to oust power in 2018 under the then Prime Minister Najib Razak, who now faces graft charges.
“Pakatan has only one candidate capable of obtaining the support of the majority of parliamentarians, Mahathir non Anwar,” said analyst Adib Zalkapli of Bower Group Asia.
“Anwar will have to fight another day. Today it is a question of preventing Umno and PAS from returning to the government ”.
Umno, who Mahathir led from 1981 to 2003 during a previous term as prime minister, supports Malaysian nationalism. His fortunes have increased since the 2018 election defeat, with the Pakistani coalition losing five elections in the face of criticism from some Malaysian voters.
At the basis of the dispute between Mahathir and Anwar was the prime minister’s pre-election promise to one day hand over power to the young man, although no date was ever set.
Neither Mahathir nor Pakatan made mention of that promise on Saturday.
Anwar was Mahathir’s deputy and an emerging political star when Mahathir was the prime minister for the first time, but they found out how to deal with the Asian financial crisis.
Anwar was arrested and imprisoned in the late 1990s on charges of sodomy and corruption denied by him and his supporters, claiming that they were aimed at ending his political career.