Malaysia’s Anwar seeks to become PM amid turmoil

Malaysia’s Anwar seeks to become PM amid turmoil

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Anwar Ibrahim’s name has been put forward for Malaysian prime minister by his supporters after the shock resignation of his alliance partner and on-off rival, Mahathir Mohamad, members of Anwar’s party said on Wednesday.

Malaysia’s politician Anwar Ibrahim leaves People’s Justice Party headquarters after a meeting in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, February 24, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

The struggle between Mahathir, 94, and Anwar, 72, who formed a surprise pact to win a 2018 election, has shaped politics in the Southeast Asian country for more than two decades and is at the root of the latest turmoil.

Mahathir, the world’s oldest head of government, resigned on Monday but was immediately named by the king as interim prime minister with full powers.

To try to end the crisis, the king has been meeting all 222 elected members of parliament over two days. Those in the meetings said they were asked to name their favoured prime minister or whether they wanted fresh elections.

The members of Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), or the People’s Justice Party, said that his name had been submitted to the king. The party has 39 seats and alliance partners could potentially give it another 62.

Anwar did not comment on whether or not he had been nominated.

“God willing, everything goes well,” he told reporters after meeting the king. “The discretion is the prerogative of the king. So I will leave it entirely to his discretion and wisdom.”

SOME BACK MAHATHIR

While some politicians have openly voiced support for Mahathir to stay in office, it was not clear whether enough of them would give him their backing at the meetings with the king to allow him to stay on.

The volatile relationship between Anwar and Mahathir helped prompt the latest crisis after Mahathir resisted pressure to set a date for a promised transfer of power to Anwar made ahead of the 2018 election.

As well as personal relationships, politics in Malaysia is shaped by a tangle of ethnic and religious interests. The largely Muslim country of 32 million is more than half ethnic Malay, but has large ethnic Chinese, Indian and other minorities.

In meetings with political leaders, Mahathir on Tuesday proposed a unity government cutting across party lines that could have given him greater authority than during a spell as prime minister from 1981 until his retirement in 2003.

But the idea was rejected on Tuesday by an alliance of four parties including the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which ruled Malaysia for six decades until being defeated by Mahathir’s coalition in 2018.

The four parties said they had told the king they wanted a new election instead.

Anwar was Mahathir’s deputy and a rising political star when Mahathir was prime minister the first time but they fell out.

Anwar was arrested and jailed in the late 1990s for sodomy and corruption, charges that he and his supporters maintain were aimed at ending his political career.

Reporting by Joseph Sipalan, Rozanna Latiff, A. Ananthalakshmi, Liz Lee and Krishna N. Das; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel

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