Back as MP, Anwar says he's in no hurry to become PM

He says that PM Mahathir should be given 'space and latitude' to run country

Former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as a federal lawmaker yesterday, and indicated that he was not in any hurry to take over from Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Datuk Seri Anwar, 71, was sworn in two days after a thumping victory in the Port Dickson by-election, clearing another hurdle in his path to becoming Malaysia's eighth prime minister as part of a succession plan agreed upon by the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.

Wearing a black Malay baju and songkok (headdress), Mr Anwar was sworn in on the first day of the second session of Parlia-ment under the five-month-old PH administration.

Asked by reporters whether Tun Dr Mahathir, 93, had indicated a timeline for him to take over as prime minister, Mr Anwar said: "No, I don't think that is an issue as far as I am concerned."

He added: "Let him have the space and latitude to continue unaffected by the constraints of time or pressure. That is very important."

Dr Mahathir quit Umno in 2016 and went on to work with the opposition, including Mr Anwar, whom he had sacked in 1998. They eventually came up with a power-sharing arrangement should they win the elections.

Leaders of PH had agreed before the May General Election that Dr Mahathir would lead South-east Asia's fourth-biggest economy for two years should the alliance win federal power, and then pass the premiership to Mr Anwar.

Dr Mahathir was asked after the swearing-in whether he was happy that Mr Anwar was an MP again. He said: "Of course I am happy. He is from the same (PH) party."

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim taking the oath as a Member of Parliament during yesterday's swearing-in ceremony at Malaysia's Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur.
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim taking the oath as a Member of Parliament during yesterday's swearing-in ceremony at Malaysia's Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Mr Anwar told reporters: "I have said to Prime Minister Mahathir that I will only support and give my contribution through Parliament and parliamentary reforms, but of course I will interact with the ministers and MPs; that is part of the job of a Member of Parliament."

Questions about the succession plan are often presented to the two Malaysian political giants, as some have raised doubts that Dr Mahathir would indeed pass the baton to Mr Anwar, seen as the "prime minister in waiting". Mr Anwar was deputy prime minister in 1998 when Dr Mahathir sacked him.

Asked if he would take up any Cabinet position, Mr Anwar replied: "No. I stand by my earlier decision. I don't intend to serve in any position, and I am happy with this position." His wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, is Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Anwar's return as an MP is his third, in a tumultuous two decades that saw him jailed twice over two sodomy-linked cases. He was last imprisoned in 2015 and was released in May after a full royal pardon from the Malaysian King on May 16, a week after PH won the general election.

Political analyst James Chin of the University of Tasmania's Asia Institute did not foresee any problems with Mr Anwar working with his former foe. "They know if they don't handle the political relationship properly, it will be a one-term PH government," he said.

"Mahathir knows this is the only opportunity to recast himself as the man who saves Malaysia. Anwar knows this is the only opportunity for him to be PM. So, both will hold off fighting to meet each other's needs."

The PH government in the current Parliament session plans to carry out several reforms that it had promised in its election manifesto. These include a move to abolish the death penalty and a motion for MPs to declare their assets.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2018, with the headline 'Back as MP, Anwar says he's in no hurry to become PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe