Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was yesterday officially installed as leader of Malaysia's largest ruling party, has kept the door open for Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to continue leading the country, saying he has to focus on whipping Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) back into shape after its deeply divisive polls.
"I'm back, I'm ready. But I've said even in my speech that as a party, we support Tun Mahathir as the Prime Minister... as long as he is prepared to continue performing the task," Mr Anwar said, when asked at a press conference if he was ready to take up the mantle of prime minister.
In his speech in closing the four-day PKR annual congress, he noted that there were "those trying to put enmity between Mahathir and me. I have forgiven all. But if there are any more such efforts, I will catch and punish you".
He added: "In the current economic difficulties, we need a leader who is firm, experienced and has the full support of his allies. Even though there are rumours here and there, from within and outside Pakatan, to hell with it, we focus on our work."
Mr Anwar's comments were the clearest signal yet that he is willing to bide his time in taking over the premiership from Dr Mahathir, who is 93. No timeframe was formally agreed on by the four-party Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition although the timetable acknowledged by its top leaders is around two years.
Mr Anwar, 71, has been criticised for allegedly trying to accelerate the changeover of prime ministers after triggering the Port Dickson by-election last month to return to Parliament.
But he said yesterday that he wants to focus on PKR's party discipline following the divisive leadership polls over the past three months that were fraught with irregularities and allegations of cheating, a process he admitted "damaged the party's image".
Datuk Seri Azmin Ali retained his post as deputy president despite a strong challenge from outgoing vice-president Rafizi Ramli, whose faction accused the former of conspiring to prevent Mr Anwar from succeeding Dr Mahathir as premier.
Mr Anwar yesterday called on PKR members to use proper channels to express their differences.
"Do not be the base tool of those who want to cause strife among us. These kinds of people do not deserve to be in PKR," he said. "You either accept party discipline or we kick you out from the party. The political bureau meets weekly, the central leadership monthly, and you can object there. Even if you want to have a vote of no confidence in me, go ahead."
He also addressed bad blood in the party after two factions led by the deputy presidential candidates, Mr Rafizi and Mr Azmin, traded attacks during the campaign.
"These are two main leaders who should help me. If you feel one is better than the other, of course, but no need to curse and belittle," Mr Anwar said, acknowledging the contributions of both men.
PKR had been the mainstay of Malaysia's opposition until last year, when Dr Mahathir formed Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) to join the PH alliance.
PKR now has 50 of the pact's 127 Members of Parliament, more than triple that of PPBM's 14.