GEORGE TOWN • The deputy president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Mr Azmin Ali, has denied that he is not supporting his party chief Anwar Ibrahim as Malaysia's next prime minister.
"Don't make your own assumptions. I did meet Anwar and agree we have issues, but I believe in the wisdom of party leaders and members in resolving them," Datuk Seri Azmin said, when asked if his support for Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to serve out his full term as premier meant he is not supporting Datuk Seri Anwar.
Mr Azmin did not say when he met Mr Anwar.
The Economic Affairs Minister spoke at a news conference after chairing a meeting with the Penang government last Friday.
Mr Azmin denied leading a group of opposition leaders to meet Tun Dr Mahathir, 94, last Tuesday, to persuade him to remain as prime minister for the full five years. "I have a lot of meetings with the Prime Minister and I don't know which one you were referring to," he said.
The Star daily had reported that opposition leaders met Dr Mahathir last Tuesday to urge him to stay the full term, amid bitter infighting between Mr Anwar, 71, and Mr Azmin, 54, over who would be the next prime minister of Malaysia.
The infighting between the top two PKR leaders became worse following the emergence of a video in June, said to feature Mr Azmin and a young man engaging in sex acts.
The two main Malay Muslim opposition parties, Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), have indicated that they prefer Dr Mahathir to Mr Anwar, due to the elder statesman's credentials as a firm Malay Muslim nationalist, while Mr Anwar could listen more to non-Muslim MPs in the Chinese-led Democratic Action Party (DAP) in drawing up policy.
"We are afraid that Anwar may be influenced by DAP and other parties," said Kelantan PAS MP Che Abdullah Mat Nawi last Thursday. As for Dr Mahathir, "PAS, Umno or DAP cannot influence him".
Dr Mahathir last week confirmed the Tuesday meeting with the opposition chiefs but did not identify them. The Star said those present included former Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein, PAS vice-president Samsuri Ahmad Mokhtar, PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan and Mr Fadillah Yusof, chief whip of Gabungan Parti Sarawak, an alliance of four Sarawak parties that controls the state government.
A high-ranking Pakatan Harapan leader who is also a Cabinet minister - believed widely to be Mr Azmin - was also reported to be present at the meeting.
Dr Mahathir said he would keep his promise to the ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan, that he would pass the premiership to Mr Anwar, within three years. But there remains deep suspicion in the Anwar camp that Dr Mahathir would prefer to pick Mr Azmin instead.
"Unless they push me to the corner and put a gun on my head to continue until the term is finished, unless you do that, I will step down. I will keep my promise," Dr Mahathir told reporters last Thursday.
He added: "I have given my undertaking, I will step down when I find that the situation in the country has been put on an even (keel)... maybe two years, three years. I don't know, we are working on that."
Dr Mahathir, who previously indicated that he would pass the baton after about two years, has not jotted down a specific date of the handover, with his latest comments showing he has stretched the possible date to three years.