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Malaysia in transition

Malaysia's Mahathir gains Anwar's backing as prime minister

Race for leadership tightens amid political crisis

Malaysia's interim prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, says he has sufficient parliamentary backing to allow him to remain in office.   © Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysia's interim prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, on Saturday declared that he now has the support of the coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim, which could allow him to stay on as leader.

As a political crisis roiled the Southeast Asian nation, the Alliance of Hope had earlier endorsed its leader, Anwar, as the next prime minister. But on Saturday it confirmed that it now supports Mahathir. It is unclear whether Mahathir has amassed the support of a majority of lawmakers in the lower house of parliament, but Mahathir says he has.

Early Saturday morning, Muhyiddin Yassin, president of Mahathir's Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu), appeared to be leading the race for parliamentary support. Big opposition parties threw their weight behind Muhyiddin on Friday.

Muhyiddin previously served as a deputy prime minister in the government led by Mahathir's predecessor, Najib Razak, but was later dismissed. He co-founded Bersatu before the 2018 general election that ousted Najib. After his victory, Mahathir appointed Muhyiddin home affairs minister, putting him in charge of the country's internal security.

Mahathir, in a statement issued Saturday morning, said that he had not given his support to Muhyiddin, as had been reported by some local media outlets.

The political turmoil began last week as Anwar, widely seen as prime minister in waiting, had urged Mahathir to step down after Malaysia hosts the APEC summit in November. Some players in the ruling coalition pulled out, attempting to form a new coalition with the opposition in order to keep Mahathir in power.

But Mahathir resigned on Monday, refusing to take part in government with the long-ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), a party he once led. After Mahathir stepped down he was appointed interim prime minister by King Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin.

The king later met with members of the lower house, but no clear winner emerged. Mahathir sought to form a nonpartisan government and later said that the lower house would vote for a new prime minister on March 2. But the king and the speaker of the lower house denied that such a deal had been reached.

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