Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad said on Saturday he has agreed to be the prime ministerial candidate of the former ruling coalition, less than a week after he quit and plunged the country into turmoil.
“I am now confident that I have the numbers needed to garner majority support,” Mahathir said in a statement.
That meant that Mahathir, who is the world’s oldest government leader at 94, would reunite with on-off ally and long-term rival Anwar Ibrahim, 72, resuming a pact that swept the coalition to a surprise election victory in 2018.
“Pakatan Harapan states its full support towards Dr Mahathir as candidate for prime minister,” said a statement from the coalition formed by the two men whose struggle has shaped Malaysian politics for two decades.
Anwar also posted on social media the statement, which declares that the coalition “will continue to fight” for its principles in government.
Mahathir has thus secured the likely support he needs to return as prime minister full-time, less than a week after he resigned and was appointed as interim leader.
The political futures of both Mahathir and Anwar had appeared in doubt on Friday, with Anwar competing as a candidate in his own right and Mahathir finding little support for a unity government that would have strengthened his power.
A new alliance had formed behind former interior minister Muhyiddin Yassin, 72, who had the backing of the old ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
It was that party, tarnished by corruption, that united Mahathir and Anwar to drive from power in 2018 under then prime minister Najib Razak, who now faces graft charges.
Tension had persisted between Mahathir and Anwar over the prime minister’s promise to one day hand power to the younger man.
No date for that was ever set, however.
Neither Mahathir nor Pakatan Harapan made any mention of that promise in Saturday’s statements.
A failed bid by Mahathir’s supporters to form a new government without his designated successor, Anwar, and Mahathir’s shock resignation on Monday broke apart the ruling alliance less than two years after it defeated the corruption-tainted Barisan Nasional coalition that had led the country for 61 years.
The infighting renewed the political rivalry between Mahathir and Anwar that stretches back more than 20 years.
On Thursday, Mahathir had announced that a special session of parliament will be convened on Monday to elect the next prime minister.
But the parliament speaker and the country’s monarch contradicted that statement, saying that only the king has the power to reconvene the parliament.
With Mahathir’s latest announcement, it remains unclear whether the March 2 special session will push through or not.
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