Malaysian PM may benefit most from rift within PKR

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

KUALA LUMPUR • A sex scandal has laid bare tensions between the likely successors to Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad - and the victor looks set to be Tun Dr Mahathir himself.

The 94-year-old, who said he would hand over to former rival Anwar Ibrahim only once the country is on good footing, may extend his stay in power as the ruling party struggles to contain internal rifts.

The spat between Datuk Seri Anwar - the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leader - and his deputy Azmin Ali spilled into the open over a series of sex videos.

Neither of them looks good coming out of the episode. Datuk Seri Azmin, whom analysts view as the Prime Minister's favourite for the role, is beholden to Dr Mahathir as long as he is possibly implicated in the videos, said Mr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. However, Mr Anwar's political career could be terminated if he is found to be behind the clips.

The videos, circulated last month, allegedly show Mr Azmin in sexual acts with another man. Malaysia's police said their analysis has failed to link the people in the videos with Mr Azmin, and concluded that a political party leader was the mastermind behind the clips.

The police, who did not name the leader or the party linked to the videos, remanded the political secretary to Mr Anwar last week.

Dr Mahathir's response to the scandal has been blunt. He wrote on his blog yesterday that he will "not be used as a tool. Least of all by someone with evil intentions, using dirty politics".

POLITICAL ISSUE

(I will) not be used as a tool. Least of all by someone with evil intentions, using dirty politics. This is not a question of morals, it is a political problem. It will be handled as a political issue.

MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER MAHATHIR MOHAMAD, responding to the sex video scandal.

"This is not a question of morals, it is a political problem. It will be handled as a political issue."

Still, he stands to benefit the most. "Mahathir also has his own political interest, which is to keep the prime minister post of his own accord, without having to submit to the people's calls to retreat," said University of Malaya politics professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi.

 
 
 

Last week, Dr Mahathir's approval rating rose to its highest since last September, according to the Merdeka Centre, a local opinion research institution. Support for the Premier rebounded from 46 per cent in March, an all-time low, to 62 per cent last month, while approval for the Pakatan Harapan government remained unmoved at 41 per cent, the report said.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2019, with the headline 'Malaysian PM may benefit most from rift within PKR'. Print Edition | Subscribe