KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhamad said that he will honor the understanding among Pakatan Harapan (PH) partners that he will hold the role as an interim prime minister for two years before stepping down.
This will allow the handover of the prime minister’s post to former political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim.
Malaysia’s Bernama news portal reported that the 93-year-old leader told an audience of Malaysians in Brunei that he will honor the PH secession agreement following concern about a repeat of history on the choice of successor.
“I am confident that he (Anwar Ibrahim) is now more mature and much experienced,” Mahathir said. Analyst Prof. James Chin is not surprised by Mahathir’s remark. He told Arab News that most people around the world expect Ibrahim to take over the reins.
“If it goes ahead, it will be good as it shows you can have peaceful transition,” added Prof. James.
Malaysia demonstrated a peaceful transition during the 14th general elections in May where the new PH government was formed without bloodshed or violent riots.
Dr. Greg Lopez, political analyst at Australia’s Murdoch University, said that this is unique in Malaysian coalition politics because Mahathir is from a different political party than Anwar Ibrahim.
“In a region filled with chaotic and violent politics such as in Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia, Malaysia would demonstrate a very peaceful transition,” he said.
The PH coalition consists of the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu), Democratic Action Party (DAP), National Trust Party (Amanah) and People’s Justice Party (PKR). Mahathir is the president of Bersatu while Anwar is the newly elected PKR president.
Despite being called a chameleon politician by many, Mahathir denied accusations that he is an “Ultra Malay,” saying that it was no different from other labels hurled against him describing his authoritarian leadership.
“Mahathir’s has set Malaysia on the path to democratization and despite all suspicion from international media, he sticks to it.”
In a region stirred by the resurgence or the continuity of authoritarian practices, the once called dictator is now setting an unexpected example,” said Dr. Sophie Lemiere, a fellow at NUS- Stanford University.
“For me the country comes first, so that there no wide gap between the races. Even if a country is not multiracial, if there is wide disparities among the people, it will invite disaster,” he said, adding that his and PH’s mission is to prevent inequality gap and address racial issues.
Mahathir said that after stepping down, he hopes “to see Malaysia as a pride of all people as in the past and return Malaysia to its glory when the country was called an Asian Tiger and wanted the government to be more democratic and not kleptocratic.”
He also wished to see the upholding of the rule of law to protect the people and Malaysia as a developed nation as envisaged under Vision 2020, though the target date may need to extend further. Vision 2020 was introduced in 1991 by Mahathir Muhamad during his first premiership.
However, Anwar may have some unresolved baggage regarding his alleged sodomy charges and his Islamic credentials.
Prof James said that there is a section of the Malaysian public who feels Anwar is not eligible due to the sodomy allegations. “If Anwar does become prime minister, it’s a remarkable comeback considering he was imprisoned just a year ago,” he said.
“If not for Najib Razak and his wife’s personal failures (1MDB corruption allegations), I do not see much difference between Najib Razak, Mahathir Muhamad and Anwar Ibrahim. All subscribe to the same model of politics — Malay and Islamic supremacy and patronage politics,” said Dr. Lopez.