Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan coalition backs Anwar as PM

KUALA LUMPUR (Al-Jazeera): Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim announced on Wednesday the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition nominated him as its candidate for prime minister.

Anwar’s People’s Justice Party (PKR) members also said they are putting his name forward as the country’s leader.

The announcement follows the resignation on Monday of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is currently running Malaysia in an acting capacity.

The struggle between Mahathir, 94, and Anwar, 72, who formed a surprise pact to win the 2018 election, has shaped Malaysian politics for more than 20 years and is at the root of the latest crisis.

Mahathir, the world’s oldest head of government in his role as interim prime minister, proposed a unified administration without political party allegiances at a time Malaysia faces a weakening economy and the impact of the new coronavirus.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mahathir delivered a national address and apologised for the “political turmoil” he caused.

“As a normal human being, I am bound to making mistakes. I apologise if my resignation was wrong,” the veteran leader said.

“If it is possible I will try to establish a government that does not favour any party. Only the interests of the nation will take precedence.”

‘Backdoor government’

In a statement, Anwar said he opposed “any efforts to form a backdoor government”.

“Pakatan invited Mahathir to chair a meeting to restore Pakatan Harapan, but he disagreed to attend the meeting on Tuesday,” said Anwar.

“Therefore, the presidential committee has decided that Anwar Ibrahim is the prime minister nominee for Pakatan.

When Anwar was asked later at a press conference if he has enough votes to form a new government, he replied: “If not, we would not be here today,”

“On the issue of numbers, we have now surrendered it to the discretion of the king. It is completely improper, impolite to discuss that question because only the Agong (king) is privy to that matter,” he added.

“We wait for the decision of the king/”

In an attempt to end the crisis, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah 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 new elections.

Anwar’s PKR has 39 seats and alliance partners could potentially give it another 62.

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.

Political tangle

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

A unity government cutting across party lines could give Mahathir 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 60 years until being defeated by Mahathir’s coalition in 2018.

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

After their election defeat under former Prime Minister Najib Razak, those parties’ fortunes have been on the rise while the Pakatan coalition of Mahathir and Anwar has lost five by-elections.

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 he and his supporters maintain were aimed at ending his political career.