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Malaysia in transition

Anwar presses Mahathir for post-APEC handover of power

Malaysia's prime minister-in-waiting aims to set clear timeline

Anwar Ibrahim is widely considered the successor to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim expressed Thursday a hope of becoming prime minister after the country hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit this November.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had said in December that he would keep his promise to give the reins to Anwar but that a handover as originally planned this May, before the APEC meeting, could lead to confusion.

Anwar appeared to support the idea in Thursday's statement, saying on social media that "I am inclined to let him continue leading the country" until the APEC gathering ends.

But Anwar also stressed that the ruling coalition's leadership wants him as the next prime minister. Details of the transition will be finalized at a coalition presidential council meeting Feb. 21, he said.

Many members of his ruling People's Justice Party, or PKR, are pushing for a handover by May. But Anwar is heeding Mahathir's stance, likely in hopes of receiving an assurance and a concrete timeline.

The sudden statement also signals that Anwar is feeling greater pressure. Lawmakers from the opposition United Malays National Organization and the Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, have begun calling for Mahathir to complete his current term instead of handing over the reins. Some ruling party members agree.

Anwar Ibrahim, right, speaks with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in a photo Anwar posted to Facebook on Feb. 13.

"The prime minister is not involved" in this movement, Anwar said in Thursday's statement, accompanied by a photo of the two men speaking amicably. He is likely trying to stress that they are on the same page and curb such rivals as Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali.

Anwar does not have enough support in Parliament to force Mahathir out and can only press him to keep a promise to step down made before taking office. Mahathir realizes this and is using opposition lawmakers to keep Anwar in line.

Anwar would score a major victory if the coalition leadership sets a specific date for the handover Feb. 21. But there is no guarantee that Mahathir will actually leave then.

Anwar was also considered the top contender for prime minister during Mahathir's first stint in office in the 1990s before being fired by Mahathir himself. The former deputy prime minister's path to Malaysia's highest political office remains fraught with uncertainties.

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