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Malaysia in transition

Malaysia's Anwar in 'no hurry' to take reins from Mahathir

PM-designate urges 'needs-based, not race-based' affirmative action

Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's leader-in-waiting, speaks at the Singapore Summit on Sept. 15. He said he aims to win "the majority of Malay votes, majority of Chinese and majority of Indian votes." (Photo by Kentaro Iwamoto)

SINGAPORE -- Malaysia's prime minister-designate Anwar Ibrahim, a key figure in the ruling coalition despite his lack of a seat in parliament, said on Saturday that he is willing to wait until the right time to take the reins of government.

Anwar announced this week that he will run in a by-election in the western coastal town of Port Dickson. The incumbent is to step down to clear the way for Anwar, who needs to win a place in parliament to become eligible for the premiership. The election commission is expected to set a date for the vote soon.

"Am I in a hurry? No," Anwar said at the Singapore Summit, a gathering of business leaders, when asked about this week's development. "Because I told Prime Minister Mahathir that I will focus on parliamentary reform. I will make sure parliament is effective, functional and not just a rubber stamp for government policies."

Anwar's political comeback is part of an agreement with his onetime archenemy, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who sent him to jail. For the general election this past May, Anwar and Mahathir joined hands under the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) banner, unseating former Prime Minister Najib Razak and achieving the country's first transfer of power since independence in 1957.

Under the deal, Mahathir is to hand over power to Anwar in two years, though the timing has yet to be clarified. Anwar on Saturday said Mahathir supports his plan to run in the by-election.

Anwar told the conference that he chose Port Dickson because it represents Malaysia's diverse society, with ethnic Malay, Chinese and Indian residents making up almost 50%, 30% and 20% of the population, respectively. "I want to make sure that I get the majority of Malay votes, majority of Chinese and majority of Indian votes," he said.

"After, hopefully, I win, then I will sit as a parliament member [and] I will interact with the government leaders and PM Mahathir until the right time when I assume the premiership," he said.

During his speech, Anwar also touched on his intention to change the country's affirmative action policy for ethnic Malays. He said a meritocracy must be backed by support for those who need it. "But it must be needs-based, not race-based," he stressed, drawing applause from the audience.

With respect to stimulating Malaysia's economic growth, Anwar emphasized smart diplomacy. "Malaysia," he said, "would not to be able to achieve [advanced] status without diplomatic policies [that ensure] the country remains attractive for foreign investment."

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