July 15, 2017 2:21 pm JST

Mahathir, Anwar to jointly lead Malaysia's opposition

They gear up for an imminent general election

Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, left, and jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim © Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR (Kyodo) -- Malaysia's opposition coalition announced Friday the appointment of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to jointly lead the coalition with his one-time nemesis Anwar Ibrahim as they gear up for an imminent general election.

After months of wrangling over accepting the controversial 91-year old Mahathir, who used to jail his opponents during his 22-year iron-fisted rule, the four-party opposition coalition named him chairman, with Anwar, who is currently in prison for sodomy, the "de facto leader."

The opposition's top leadership including Mahathir, who met late Thursday to formalize their pact, also named Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who heads the People's Justice Party, or PKR, as the coalition's president.

The opposition has been left rudderless and fractured since Anwar was slapped with a five-year jail term in 2015 over a sodomy charge that he claimed was masterminded by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to ruin his political career.

The country's biggest opposition party, the Islamic Party, or PAS, subsequently left the coalition after a row with its secular partner, the Democratic Action Party. Moreover, PAS itself has split, with the renegades forming a new party called Amanah.

The revamped opposition coalition now comprises the PKR, DAP, Amanah and Mahathir's new party, the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

Keith Leong from the KRA Group, an independent think tank, said, "Liberals and the moderates may be suspicious of Mahathir but he gives them the opportunity to court the Malay votes that has thus far eluded them."

In Malaysia's race-based politics, analysts have opined that the coming election would be a battle for Malay votes as the minority ethnic groups, the Chinese and the Indians have largely swung to the opposition.

Mahathir, though retired in 2003, still draws crowds in rallies across the country.

But his embracing of his once staunchest critics including Anwar has raised eyebrows and showed the lengths he will go to oust Najib, whom he called a "demon."

Anwar, who was once Mahathir's protege and chosen heir, was sacked in September 1998 over what Mahathir said was his "immorality." He was subsequently jailed for sodomy, a crime in predominantly Muslim Malaysia, and corruption, charges that Anwar alleged were trumped up.

"In the effort to destroy the demon, I found common ground with the parties opposed to UMNO and BN. I found common ground with Anwar Ibrahim. I found that Anwar and me can work together after I had made my U-turn," Mahathir wrote in his widely read blog on Thursday.

UMNO is the Najib-led United Malays National Organization, the dominant party in the 14-party ruling National Front coalition more popularly known by its Malay acronym BN.

"We, together with many others, will spare no effort to overthrow Najib and his decadent, corrupt kleptocratic government," he added.

Mahathir has been on a warpath with Najib over scandals surrounding the controversial state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad that Najib founded and is now the subject of investigation in a host of countries including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a civil lawsuit against Najib to seize over $1 billion worth of assets that it alleges were misappropriated from 1MDB and laundered through the U.S. financial system.

Najib had denied any wrongdoing and his party had rallied behind him as rumors swirl that he may call an election this year although the current term expires in August next year.

As the opposition gears up for a poll, the leaders in their meeting late Thursday drew up several measures they pledged to undertake if they win the election, including launching a process to seek a royal pardon for Anwar within a week of forming a government to enable him to return to politics and to establish a royal commission of inquiry into the 1MDB scandal.

Get Insights on Asia In Your Inbox

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

Get your first month for $0.99

Redeemable only through the Subscribe button below

Once subscribed, you can…

  • Read all stories with unlimited access (5 articles per month without subscription)
  • Use our smartphone and tablet apps

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

3 months for $9
SUBSCRIBE TODAY

Take advantage of this limited offer.
Subscribe now to get unlimited access to all articles.

To read the full story, Update your account

We could not renew your subscription.
You need to update your payment information.

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

Once subscribed, you can…

  • Read all stories with unlimited access (5 articles per month without subscription)
  • Use our smartphone and tablet apps

To read the full story, Subscribe or Log in

3 months for $9
SUBSCRIBE TODAY

Take advantage of this limited offer.
Subscribe now to get unlimited access to all articles.

To read the full story, Update your account

We could not renew your subscription.
You need to update your payment information.