Mahathir defends his treatment of Anwar in 1998

Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad addresses journalists in Putrajaya on July 18, 2017.
Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad addresses journalists in Putrajaya on July 18, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's former Prime Minister-turned-opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad has defended his treatment of his one-time deputy Anwar Ibrahim in 1998.

Responding to a question on Facebook live if he had any regrets about the treatment of Anwar, Tun Dr Mahathir said on Friday (July 21) he was merely "responding to the situation at hand".

Anwar was once a protege of Dr Mahathir and the rising star of Malaysian politics, but they fell out in the late 1990s.

Then the Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar was fired from the Cabinet in 1998, tried for corruption and sodomy and thrown in jail for the first time.

The sodomy verdict was overturned in 2004, when Dr Mahathir's successor, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was holding the premiership.

Anwar, who has been convicted of another sodomy offence and is now in jail, has become de facto leader of the opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan (PH), while Dr Mahathir is also a PH chairman.

The PH alliance is made up of Dr Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), Mr Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Amanah, a group of rebels that splintered from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) after the latter parted ways with its former opposition colleagues in 2015.

"Now, it is different," Dr Mahathir said in Friday's interview with Thai journalist and Nation Multimedia Group chairman Suthichai Yoon.

"If we keep on raking up the past, you can never work with anybody. You will always be fighting against your enemies, and that is bad.

"I'm not angry over the past, he is not angry over the past also," said Dr Mahathir.

Dr Mahathir was declared PH chairman at a post-midnight press conference last Friday, during which he announced that a new premier would seek Anwar’s release and install him as the “eighth PM” should the opposition pact end Barisan Nasional’s uninterrupted six-decade rule.

Dr Mahathir said in the interview Anwar as "quite capable" of becoming prime minister, adding that Malaysia's future premiers "will not be so powerful as the present one".

In the same interview, Dr Mahathir exonerated his former "enemy", Lim Kit Siang, claiming that the DAP adviser was "not as bad" as he had made him out to be in the past.

He also indicated that it was all part of a strategy to portray political enemies in a negative light.

"When you are in the government, you have to demonise your opposition," said Dr Mahathir, adding that Lim is "very much disliked by people of my old party".

"But people realise that he is not as bad as I made him out to be in the past," said Dr Mahathir.

During Dr Mahathir's tenure as prime minister in 1987, Lim was arrested under Ops Lalang and spent 17 months in prison without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA).