Malaysia: Mahathir Says Working With Longtime Foe Anwar ‘Possible’

Muzliza Mustafa
Putrajaya, Malaysia
160906_MY_Mahathir_1000.jpg Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks to BenarNews during an interview at his office in Putrajaya, Sept. 6, 2016.
Muzliza Mustafa/BenarNews

Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, who held a landmark meeting this week with jailed de facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim – his bitter foe – said it was "possible" that they could work together in a bid to oust scandal-tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak.

In an interview with BenarNews following their first meeting in nearly two decades on Monday, the ex-leader also indicated that the encounter signaled an end to their long-running feud, sparked by Mahathir's sacking in 1998 of Anwar as his deputy when he was prime minister.

Anwar was subsequently convicted for sodomy and corruption, and jailed for five years on charges that he said were part of a conspiracy plan by his former boss. Anwar was jailed again on new sodomy charges in 2015 by Najib's government.

Mahathir met Anwar in a court in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on Monday to back Anwar's legal challenge against Najib's implementation of a tough new national security law, which rights groups say could enable Najib's administration to trample over human rights and act with impunity.

"Possible...possible," Mahathir told BenarNews when asked whether he expected to work with Anwar again for the interest of the country, after photos of the two bitter foes smiling and shaking hands were splashed on social media.

"I'm working together even with people who were condemning me for corruption, for nepotism, for cronyism, etc. But those happened in the past," Mahathir said at his office at the Perdana Leadership Foundation in Putrajaya on Tuesday.

"If they are willing to be with me, work with me, I will work with them, because the main objective now is to get rid of this current government," he added.

Jailed Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (left) and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad greet one another in a court room in Kuala Lumpur, Sept. 5, 2016. [Courtesy of People’s Justice Party]

‘I cannot continue holding a grudge’

Mahathir and a group that broke away from Najib's United Malays National Organization (UMNO) have sought registration to form a new political party – the United Malaysian Indigenous Party (Bersatu).

Anwar, on the other hand, has backed Mahathir against Najib over corruption allegations linked to the debt-ridden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The 91-year-old Mahathir said he could not continue holding a grudge against Anwar despite his actions against Anwar when he was the prime minister.

"He was in jail during my time but subsequently he was released. The jailing again is not by me. I did not do that. I cannot continue holding a grudge,” Mahathir said.

“Well, I can’t forever be against a person after he has served whatever wrong. I can’t just hold it against him. It is not personal,” he said.

Mahathir said he had gone to the court to give moral support to Anwar over his legal challenge.

"[Anwar] is challenging the legality of the [National] Security Council Act and I've written in my blog against the Security Council Act," Mahathir said.

"So, I met him and had quite a long discussion with him and his lawyer and we had discussion on the illegality and the wrong things about the Security Council Act."

Political calculation

Najib, facing resignation calls after being linked to a multi-million dollar corruption scandal, had pushed the National Security Act through parliament in December. After legislative approval, the bill did not get the customary assent from Malaysia’s king, who had asked for some changes. The law went into force in August.

The Mahathir-Anwar encounter was the “first meeting after 18 years, 3 days...since 2 September 1998,” Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail – president of the People’s Justice Party (PKR) – said on Twitter.

Anwar, upon leaving the court, told reporters that Mahathir’s presence to show support for the court application indicated that the leader supports reforms.

“He showed his preparedness to come and pledged his support for the court application, and wished me well and success. And I presume, therefore, that he supports the reform agenda,” Anwar was quoted as saying in videos on social media.

The next general election must be held by mid-2018.

Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan said the Mahathir-Anwar meeting should arouse concern in Najib's Barisan Nasional coalition government.

“In politics, friendships are not eternal and enemies are not enemies forever,” he told BenarNews.

Political analyst Jeniri Amir from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak said that Mahathir would have "thought deeply about this political calculation, and knows the implication of his actions."

Melati A. Jalil contributed to this report


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