Senior Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim said he discussed the handover of power with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday and claimed that the much-anticipated transfer would be determined during a meeting of the ruling coalition on Feb. 21.
At their meeting on Thursday in Putrajaya, Anwar said he raised the matter of leadership transition after receiving reports that several groups were seeking signatures calling for Mahathir to serve out his full five-year term.
“I tend to believe that he will continue leading the country until the end of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (APEC),” said Anwar, Mahathir’s anointed successor. “However, the matter will be finalized at the Pakatan Harapan (PH) Presidential Meeting on February 21.”
Anwar is president of the People’s Justice Party (PKR), the linchpin of the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition, which swept into power in the 2018 general election.
Anwar said Mahathir assured him that he was not involved in the signature campaign and that the 94-year-old leader even said “emphatically” that he would step down as promised.
The meeting took place two months after Mahathir – the world’s oldest prime minister – suggested during the Doha Forum in Qatar that he may have to stay in power after 2020, saying he wanted to fix issues he had inherited from the previous government before handing over power to Anwar.
Despite his recent statements related to the transition of leadership, Mahathir had not made it clear exactly when he intended to leave office.
But he told Reuters in an interview that he would keep his promise, although the hand over would not take place before a summit of APEC countries that Malaysia will host in November.
“I made a promise to hand over and I will, accepting that I thought that a change immediately before the APEC summit would be disruptive,” Mahathir said.
Mahathir said he would fulfill his promise “irrespective of whatever allegation” people may have against his anointed successor, alluding to fresh claims that Anwar had tried to force a former aide to have sex.
“If people don’t want him, that is their business, but I will do my part of the promise,” Mahathir said. Anwar has denied the allegations.
Anwar was the nation’s most famous political prisoner until he received a royal full-pardon in May 2018, when the opposition alliance that he jointly led with Mahathir pulled off a stunning election victory, ushering then-Prime Minister Najib Razak’s political downfall.
Anwar, who once served as deputy prime minister in the 1990s, was sacked by the ruling party after a bitter feud with Mahathir, his political mentor. He served years in prison on what his supporters claimed were politically-motivated sodomy charges, including one that was allegedly orchestrated by Najib.
To defeat Najib, Anwar and Mahathir set aside their bitter feud. Mahathir had pledged during the campaign for the May general election that he would hand over power to Anwar after two years serving as an interim premier.
Anwar, in his statement Thursday, said he told Mahathir that he and his allies would “continue to defend” the pact that they signed on Jan. 7, 2018, in which they agreed that he would eventually take over as prime minister.
“I also reminded that during almost two years under Pakatan Harapan, that agreement has not been challenged by any of the coalition partners,” he said.