Malaysian prison authorities barred ex-PM Mahathir Mohamad, the opposition’s choice for prime minister should it win this year’s general election, from meeting Wednesday with jailed de facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim at a hospital rehab center in Kuala Lumpur.
Mahathir said police told him at the Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital that he could not visit Anwar because of “orders from above.”
“Which means Minister of Home Affairs? That I am not allowed to visit Anwar,” Mahathir told reporters as he left the hospital.
Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed said Anwar is a convict and anyone who wanted to visit him must get permission from the Prisons Department.
“A convict is not a free man. His life is controlled by the Prisons Department. No one is allowed to meet him other than the family,” Nur Jazlan told The Malaysian Insight, a local news website.
On Sunday, Malaysian opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) unanimously selected Mahathir, 92, as its pick for the prime minister’s post ahead of the country’s 14th general election. Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, was nominated as the coalition’s choice for deputy prime minister.
If PH wins the election, Mahathir would serve as prime minister until Anwar, who is to be released from prison in June on a sodomy conviction, could take over if granted a royal pardon. Without the pardon, Anwar would be barred from politics for five years.
The general election must be held by August, but Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to call the polls earlier this year. Najib’s United National Malays Organization (UMNO) party heads the Barisan Nasional coalition, which has ruled Malaysia for decades.
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Mahathir, who used to belong to UMNO, came out of retirement amid allegations that billions of dollars from state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) had been misused by Najib and others.
“He is a dictator, through his actions, not his words. I was said to be a dictator, say anything you like, but I never did things like this,” Mahathir said of Najib after not being allowed to visit Anwar at the hospital.
As Malaysia’s prime minister for 22 years, from 1981 to 2003, Mahathir developed a reputation as an autocratic ruler, throwing several opposition leaders into jail, including Anwar in the late 1990s.
Anwar is undergoing rehab at the hospital while recovering from surgery on his right shoulder in November for an injury suffered during a car crash involving a Prisons Department vehicle. He is serving a five-year prison term after being convicted of a sodomy charge three years ago.
“All I wanted to do was visit Anwar and thank him personally on Pakatan Harapan (PH) reaching a consensus. I feel sad. I just wanted to meet him, to thank him for not objecting, in fact, supporting me as a candidate,” Mahathir said.
Arriving at the hospital around 4:30 p.m., Mahathir met with prison officials to seek permission for the visit. About 20 minutes later, he and Anwar’s daughter, Nurul Izzah, left the hospital and informed reporters the request had been rejected.
“I am disappointed that we live in a democratic country but I am not allowed to meet a friend,” Mahathir said.
Nurul pointed out that Najib, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Tourism Minister Nazri Aziz had all visited Anwar days after his surgery in November.
“When Nazri Aziz visited him, he didn’t get approval either. He was just allowed in. So why should this be any different?” Nurul asked.
“There is no consistency. Mahathir has expressed his intention to visit my father. We informed the authorities, prisons department in Sungai Buloh and headquarters,” she said, adding, “There was no official response, but word got to us that he would not be allowed to visit.”
PH officials told BenarNews this was the first opportunity for Mahathir to visit his once-bitter foe. Their last known meeting was on Sept. 5, 2016, during Anwar’s challenge of a new National Security Council act.
“Anwar has a long history of confrontation with me and it’s not easy for him to accept the consensus of approving me as the next prime minister should PH win in the coming general election. It is a big thing,” Mahathir said.