Malaysia's Mahathir steps into Parliament in opposition role

Dr Mahathir was seated next to Dr Wan Azizah at the press conference yesterday. They nodded to each other but did not speak to each other - a reflection of 18 years of bad blood between the former prime minister and the Anwar family.
Dr Mahathir was seated next to Dr Wan Azizah at the press conference yesterday. They nodded to each other but did not speak to each other - a reflection of 18 years of bad blood between the former prime minister and the Anwar family.PHOTO: ONG KIAN MING/FACEBOOK

Former Malaysian PM turns up to support 3 ex-ministers in trouble for bringing up 1MDB

Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad stepped into the Parliament complex yesterday as an opposition leader, in stark contrast to his appearances in the House for 22 years as the most powerful man in the country with government MPs mobbing him.

Tun Dr Mahathir, who is not a Member of Parliament, took his place yesterday beside other opposition leaders to address a news conference in a room near the main chamber of Parliament.

He retired as prime minister in 2003, but has continued to play a big role in Malaysian politics.

Dr Mahathir agitated to have his successor, Tun Abdullah Badawi, removed from the prime ministership in 2009 and is now pushing for the ouster of Prime Minister Najib Razak due to the financial scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

Dr Mahathir, 91, asked about his appearance in Parliament yesterday, told reporters: "I think I might have been here for some social events (after retirement in 2003), but this is the first time I am visiting the new (upgraded) building.

"It is a fantastic building, but I don't feel happy. I feel sad. The building is okay, but the content is not."

Sore that the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition remains firmly behind Datuk Seri Najib despite the 1MDB scandal, Dr Mahathir quit Umno in February and announced in August the creation of a new opposition party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

He was in Parliament to show support for three former Cabinet ministers who are facing police investigation for allegedly breaking state secrets by speaking about 1MDB in Parliament recently.

At the news conference, Dr Mahathir was seated awkwardly next to Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, wife of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. They acknowledged each other's presence by nodding, but did not speak to each other, in a reflection of the 18 years of bad blood between Dr Mahathir and the Anwar family. "You can't expect her to be chummy with Mahathir. It's already historic that they're in the same room and acknowledged each other," said an opposition MP who was at the meeting.

The former prime minister sacked Anwar in 1998 and the latter was first jailed during the Mahathir administration amid allegations of sodomy and corruption. Dr Mahathir met Anwar in September in a move to put the past behind them.

Last week, Dr Wan Azizah was visited at her home by Dr Mahathir's wife, Tun Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali.

Police have begun a probe against three former ministers under the Sedition Act and Official Secrets Act. The police claim that ex-deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin and Cabinet ministers Shafie Apdal and Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah had revealed state secrets when they spoke about 1MDB in the House.

The opposition shot back by saying that issues raised in Parliament are covered by parliamentary immunity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2016, with the headline 'Mahathir steps into Parliament in opposition role'. Print Edition | Subscribe