KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim appeared together at a political rally for the first time in 20 years, where the latter is contesting in the Port Dickson by-election to return to Parliament.
"I am happy to be able to campaign for Anwar today," Tun Mahathir told the estimated 2,000-strong crowd. This was the first election rally by Dr Mahathir, 93, since the May general election. More than 16,700 people watched Dr Mahathir's speech via Facebook Live at one point.
His stumping for Datuk Seri Anwar, 71, at the rally is an important marker in Malaysian politics as it should quash rumours about weak ties, or even a split, between the two political giants.
Said Mr Anwar who spoke at the rally earlier: "This is the first time in 20 years I am on the same stage with my old friend Tun Mahathir."
In a gesture to show his critics that he is not in a hurry to return as a lawmaker and replace Dr Mahathir as prime minister, Mr Anwar said: "I accept he is the best man to lead the country now", to cheers from the crowd.
Dr Mahathir has mended ties with Mr Anwar in recent years and their coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH) successfully toppled the Barisan Nasional coalition (BN) from power in May.
Mr Anwar was released from prison five months ago.
Under an agreement agreed upon by the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition before the general election, Mr Anwar is to replace Dr Mahathir as prime minister in about two years' time.
Just days away from the Saturday polling day (Oct 13), Dr Mahathir is expected to take the stage to call on voters to head out this weekend and vote for Mr Anwar.
Mr Anwar has not taken any chances in the first few days of campaigning in the Negeri Sembilan beach town, packing his schedule to meet the electorate across the ward and asking locals to hand him a resounding victory. Anything less, Mr Anwar has said, would be an embarrassment.
To count on a wide majority against six other candidates, Mr Anwar is turning to Dr Mahathir, whose presence still generate public excitement.
Mr Anwar has received support from his PH comrades, as cabinet ministers from the coalition's component parties had headed down to Port Dickson - an hour's drive south of Kuala Lumpur - since last weekend to assist him, the "prime-minister-in-waiting", to garner support.
The major candidate in the seven-way fight is air force veteran Mohd Nazari Mokhtar from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
Other known contestants are ex-Umno vice-president Isa Samad who is contesting as an independent, and another independent candidate Mr Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a former aide to Mr Anwar who accused him in 2008 of sodomising him.
The other three independents are Mr Stevie Chan, Ms Lau Seck Yan and Mr Kan Chee Yuen.
Incumbent Port Dickson lawmaker Danyal Balagopal Abdullah vacated his seat last month to pave way for Mr Anwar to contest and return to Parliament.
Umno-led Barisan Nasional has opted out of contesting in this by-election.
Dr Mahathir in his speech said he hopes that the people of Port Dickson will vote for Mr Anwar, so that "we can work for the country we love and for the Malaysian people who have allowed us to take over the administration of this country".