Malaysian turmoil takes new twist as Mahathir and Anwar ally again

Less than a week after Mahathir resigned and was appointed as interim leader, he has thus secured the likely support he needs to return as prime minister full-time

Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad will stand for the premiership on behalf of the former ruling coalition, the interim prime minister said on Saturday, 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.

That meant that Mahathir, who is the world's oldest government leader at 94, would 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.

Former Malaysia PM Mahathir questioned by police for the second time in June
Malaysia's prime minister Mahathir Mohamad during an interview at his office in Putrajaya Reuters

Mahathir as Prime minister candidate

"Pakatan Harapan states its full support towards Dr Mahathir as a candidate for prime minister," said a statement from the coalition formed by the two men whose struggle has shaped Malaysian politics for two decades.

Mahathir has thus secured the likely support he needs to return as prime minister full-time, less than a week after he resigned and was appointed as interim leader.

Release Anwar Ibrahim and repeal sodomy law, Human Rights Watch tells Malaysia
Anwar Ibrahim Reuters

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 ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

It was that party, tarnished by corruption, that Mahathir and Anwar united to drive from power in 2018 under then prime minister Najib Razak, who now faces graft charges.

Tension had persisted between Mahathir and Anwar over the prime minister's promise to one day hand power to the younger man. No date for that was ever set, however.

Neither Mahathir nor Pakatan Harapan made any mention of that promise in Saturday's statements.