PETALING JAYA • Former Malay- sian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has denied backing jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to become the next prime minister, as reported recently by British daily The Guardian.
The chairman of opposition Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia said Anwar could not become the next prime minister as he needed to be released from prison first.
"If the opposition wins (the next general election), the new seventh prime minister will have to work to release him. Until then, he cannot be PM," he told reporters last Friday.
Tun Dr Mahathir was less certain when queried about the opposition coalition's plan to appoint an interim prime minister pending Anwar's release.
"Well, there has to be an interim prime minister. There is no way he can become PM from jail because he cannot compete (in elections). We did not discuss who will be interim PM," he said.
Dr Mahathir was quoted by The Guardian as saying that he would not object to Anwar returning to politics and becoming prime minister if the latter is given a royal pardon.
He also reportedly admitted that Anwar, who served as his deputy prime minister from 1993 to 1998, had been unfairly treated, drawing derision from other politicians.
"Has Mahathir forgotten that Anwar was sacked from the government during his tenure in 1998?" asked Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Azalina Othman Said. "Mahathir's nature of constantly making U-turns also shows the true colours of the opposition (members), who are willing to pawn their principles to fulfil their personal interests," she said.
Dr Mahathir responded on Friday that it was not him but Prime Minister Najib Razak who had made a U-turn. "From a good party that could govern the country well, it has become the dirtiest party in the world, among the 10 most corrupt nations in the world, that's the U-turn," he said. "If he had followed the same journey as my successor (Tun Abdullah Badawi), there is no U-turn, it is a straight road."
The former premier was clearly referring to the corruption scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
Anwar was sacked from his deputy prime minister post after falling out with Dr Mahathir in the late 1990s. Soon afterwards, he was jailed on charges of sodomy and graft, largely seen as being politically motivated.
The article published last Thursday also said Dr Mahathir had regretted not allowing Anwar to succeed him, but the former prime minister denied saying this.
"No, I didn't say anything about that. What is past is past. If you talk about the past, then we will have a lot of problems," he added.
Last month, Anwar said he would not be a candidate for prime minister in the upcoming elections.
Dr Mahathir, who turns 92 tomorrow, has said he would consider taking up the premier position again, but only if there was no acceptable candidate.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS