Mahathir and Anwar say setting aside differences in push to bring PH back to power

Mr Mahathir Mohamad (left) and Mr Anwar Ibrahim said that they rejected the Perikatan Nasional administration. PHOTOS: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's two veteran politicians Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim said on Saturday (May 9) that they have set aside their differences for a renewed push to regain power for the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.

They said in a joint statement that they rejected the two-month-old Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration that came to power unelected, and is led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin with the backing of Umno.

Tun Mahathir, 94, and Datuk Seri Anwar, 72, said many of the reforms they introduced when PH was in power for 22 months until end-February were being dismantled.

The joint statement was issued on Saturday, two years after PH shocked many people by beating Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) in the May 9, 2018, general election.

BN had been in power since Malaysia gained independence 61 years ago, but many voters soured on the Umno-led coalition following the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal that tainted then-premier Najib Razak.

"We have long set aside differences, disputes, and disagreements for the people. We are old, and we do not have much time left," Dr Mahathir and Mr Anwar said.

"Yet our fighting spirit still burns bright in the souls of the youth who dream of reforms. It is time for us to rise again and return the people's mandate to the rightful owners."

Their statement came as fears of the coronavirus appeared to have receded as Malaysia entered its 53rd day of the movement control order on Saturday.

Malaysia on Saturday reported 54 new cases to bring the cumulative total to 6,589, with 108 total fatalities.

"Two years ago, people from all religions and races helped us through donations and contributions, their voices and suggestions, hope and spirit, to see change for the better in our beloved country.

"Two years ago, we did not give up in championing the people's voice and it remains the same today," they said in the joint statement.

When PH scored a stunning victory in the general election, Dr Mahathir became prime minister for the second time while Mr Anwar was given a royal pardon and released from prison.

Mr Anwar's supporters say that PH leaders had agreed for Dr Mahathir to pass the premiership to Mr Anwar within two years of winning power. But Dr Mahathir's camp said there was no date set for the handover.

The tensions between the two leaders over the handover destablised PH, as did the constant fight between Mr Anwar and his then deputy Azmin Ali over control of Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

Voters meanwhile, were unhappy as the government failed to rein in inflation, while Malay voters were concerned over the perception of eroding Malay and Muslim rights under PH.

Dr Mahathir shocked PH by unexpectedly stepping down as prime minister on Feb 24, while Datuk Seri Azmin and a group of MPs left PKR to join up with Mr Muhyiddin.

Though PN, or National Alliance in Malay, is today led by Mr Muhyiddin as prime minister and Mr Azmin as senior minister and the second most powerful official in the Cabinet, Umno has not been willing to formalise the PN pact.

Umno leaders have said they prefer to instead consolidate a separate pact between Umno and PAS called Muafakat Nasional (National Consensus in Malay).

Meanwhile, Tun Mahathir said that Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) was left weakened after Umno declared it had never joined PN, as PN was not a registered political entity. Dr Mahathir is chairman of Bersatu while Mr Muhyiddin is its president.

"On the one hand, we (Bersatu) do not get support from Umno. On the other hand, there is also no support from Pakatan Harapan. So Bersatu is left flailing with no clear direction, and if there is a general election, it will be impossible for Bersatu to remain in power," said Dr Mahathir in a video posted Facebook on Saturday to talk about the second anniversary of the 2018 election win.

"There is a big chance that Bersatu will suffer a devastating loss and the hopes of the Malays to replace Umno with another Malay party will be gone."

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