Dr Mahathir says he is not retiring as many want to see his comeback, says Anwar is 'impatient'

Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad arrives for a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, on March 1, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PUTRAJAYA - Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, three weeks after resigning from his post that caused his government to collapse, said he isn't retiring yet as supporters continue persuade him to make a comeback as the country's leader.

"Even now, they are coming to see me," Tun Dr Mahathir told Nikkei Asian Review in an interview in his office in Putrajaya.

"I tell them, look, I'm old, 94 years old, but they say they (don't) see people with experience. I had experience as PM for many, many years... so they think that I can resolve many of the problems."

Dr Mahathir shocked Malaysians when he unexpectedly quit the premiership on Feb 24, saying later that he had lost support from the majority of leaders in the party that he chaired, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

The president of Bersatu, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, had by then cobbled a new alliance to control Parliament. They comprise most of Bersatu's MPs, renegade lawmakers from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and others from opposition factions Barisan Nasional (BN) and Parti Islam SeMalaysia and Gabungan Parti Sarawak.

Mr Muhyiddin, 72, was sworn in as prime minister on March 1 by the Malaysian King.

Showing Dr Mahathir's widespread appeal among Malaysians, especially the majority Malays, PM Muhyiddin on Wednesday asked his predecessor to "endorse" his new government.

"We have formed this government and I want Tun to endorse this government, that it is a government for the people," Mr Muhyiddin told a news conference.

Dr Mahathir was Malaysia's prime minister for 22 years between 1981 and 2003, and for nearly 22 months after leading an unlikely band of parties to defeat Umno-led BN in the 2018 general election.

He indicated in the Nikkei interview that he likes to be in charge, saying it would be selfish of him to retire.

"I cannot stand seeing a government that does something wrong," Dr Mahathir said. "I feel I have a duty to do something."

Dr Mahathir has in the last three weeks variously blamed former prime minister Najib Razak, Umno leaders and his former protege, PKR president Anwar Ibrahim, for the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government.

In the interview, the statesman said that just like in 1998, Datuk Seri Anwar had been "impatient" to wait for his turn to become prime minister.

"Well, I think he has always been impatient," Dr Mahathir told Nikkei. "During the last time when he was in Umno, I promoted him until he was the second man, where he would take over when I retire. But he couldn't wait because I was staying too long and he started some movement to overthrow me, but of course he failed."

This time around, Dr Mahathir said: "He was campaigning, through his boys, to ask me to step down. I felt that I will step down when I think that it is safe to step down."

There was an agreement within the Pakatan Harapan factions that Dr Mahathir would pass the premiership to Mr Anwar after a period of time, but the date wasn't determined.

Asked if he would run for the next general election, which is due in 2023, Dr Mahathir said he would do so if people requested it.

"If you ask me, I don't want to do it because by then, I would be 98."

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