KUALA LUMPUR (BLOOMBERG) - Malaysian ruling party leader Anwar Ibrahim, who cut a deal to become the country’s next prime minister ahead of last year’s election, said he should take power around May 2020.
“There’s an understanding that it should be around that time, but I don’t think I should be too petty about the exact month,” Datuk Seri Anwar said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Haslinda Amin in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday (Sept 18), when asked whether the transition would happen two years after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad took power.
“But there is this understanding that he will resign at the appropriate time,” Mr Anwar added.
Mr Anwar, 72, dismissed reports that Minister of Economic Affairs Azmin Ali or Mr Mukhriz Mahathir, the prime minister’s son, would be considered for the role instead of him.
Mr Anwar’s political secretary had been briefly detained in July over leaked sex videos allegedly featuring Datuk Seri Azmin, deputy leader of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) or the People’s Justice Party.
“There’s no sign of any party introducing or promoting or lobbying for other names,” Mr Anwar said. “This does not stop other individuals with ambitions with their own design. And this to me is quite irrelevant,"Mr Anwar said.
"Whether it has been discussed, whether it has been given legitimacy, the answer is no.”
Questions over when Mr Anwar will take power have loomed over Malaysian politics ever since Tun Dr Mahathir led the coalition to a surprise victory last year.
The conflict between Dr Mahathir’s two likely successors raised the possibility that the 94-year-old would extend his stay in power as the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition struggled to contain internal dissent.
Dr Mahathir has repeatedly promised to hand over power to Mr Anwar, without setting a timeline. He said he would step down once he finds the country’s situation in an even keel, which could take two to three years.
In the interview, Mr Anwar reserved his strongest comments on the impact of the forest fires burning in Indonesia that have caused a dangerous haze in parts of South-east Asia, disrupting air travel and forcing the closure of schools.
“We should feel outraged and I consider this an ecological warfare,” Mr Anwar said.
“It is not a small matter. It is affecting essentially millions of our people,“ he said, noting that this requires governments to be more assertive. “We have to be stronger, regardless of whether it’s Malaysia, Singapore or Indonesia – I mean these are big companies. Why are we not making sure they are being held accountable and at least bear part of the cost.”
Stinging smoke from illegal burning to clear land for palm oil and paper plantations has covered western and central regions of Indonesia and parts of Malaysia, with thousands of people reporting acute respiratory illness. It has revived fears of a repeat of 2015 when a total of 2.6 million hectares of land was affected, costing Indonesia 221 trillion rupiah (S$22 billion in today's exchange rates) in economic losses
Mr Anwar urged a review of the contract for the East Coast Rail Link, which has been a feature of the trial of Najib Razak. The former leader has been accused of offering projects to China in exchange for help resolving troubled state fund 1MDB’s debt.
Dr Mahathir has made the 1MDB investigation a priority. He vowed to recoup billions of dollars allegedly lost through the fund and bring to book the culprits in the scandal. The government has brought charges against Najib, who faces 42 counts of corruption and money laundering, fugitive financier Jho Low, and 17 current and former directors of Goldman Sachs Group.
Government policy must also ensure fair distribution of wealth, fight corruption to address state leakages and reform the sedition law, Mr Anwar said.
“The sedition law as it stands now cannot be defended and that has been our position,” he said. “In the past extensive discussions, debates and there was a consensus and we have to honour that.”
The government must also allay fears and concerns of ethnic Malays, noting that affirmative action is vital for all races to escape poverty, he told Bloomberg.
Since taking government, Pakatan Harapan has struggled to maintain the support of the country's Malay Muslim population, who make up the country’s majority.
Backlash from Malay groups forced the administration to backtrack from its promises to ratify international treaties on anti-discrimination and crimes against humanity.