PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad indicated on Sunday (Dec 30) that he would hand over the premiership to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as had been agreed by his Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance, despite calls by his party for him to complete the five-year term.
Tun Mahathir told delegates attending the second annual assembly of his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) that he had agreed to be a "temporary" prime minister before the May general election, and he would stick to this promise.
His comments answered a key question plaguing the seven-month old PH government - whether Malaysia's seventh prime minister would make Datuk Seri Anwar, 71, the eighth premier, or risk a civil war in PH by going back on his word.
Dr Mahathir, in his first stint as premier, in 1998 sacked his then annointed successor, deputy prime minister Anwar, that led to a divisive 20-year long political battle.
PPBM's three-day annual assembly in Putrajaya ended on Sunday, with the day-long debate by some 1,900 delegates closed to the media.
Party officials said a Kelantan division chief, Zulkifli Zakaria, had put forward a motion for the assembly to support Dr Mahathir's continued prime ministership, rather than having to pass the baton to Mr Anwar after two years.
"I am aware of calls for this old prime minister to remain for a long time," Dr Mahathir, 93, said in his winding-up speech at the assembly that was open to the media.
"But we could only win the election with our coalition parties, and to have this coalition, one of the conditions was that the prime minister, their former enemy, can only be prime minister as a temporary measure."
Dr Mahathir said he was not happy to hear this condition, but at that time the priority for the PH opposition alliance was to topple former premier Najib Razak.
"I had to accept the condition to get rid of Najib and we could not do anything as long as Najib was in power.
"That is why we sit together, and hug among old foes. It looked very strange but now it looks normal when you see me sit with my enemies at the same table," he said.
The PPBM chairman added: "In a struggle, we have to give and take. If we are stubborn and insist, we will be destroyed and we will not get what we want."
PH comprises PPBM, Mr Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the Democratic Action Party and Parti Amanah Negara.
PPBM won 13 parliamentary seats in the polls but now has 16 after defections from Umno.
Following the electoral victory, the Malay party now has 165 divisions nationwide, from 135 previously.
PPBM's Negeri Sembilan chief and former Umno minister Rais Yatim said the suggestion for Dr Mahathir to serve the full term may not be accepted by the other PH component parties.
"This is a good motion, but the feelings of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, his wife and his group needs to be looked at from a reasonable and practical perspective," he was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times.
Dr Mahathir's son and PPBM deputy president Mukhriz Mahathir said his father should be allowed to clean up the government before handing over to Mr Anwar.
"We have inherited a corrupt government, and to restore it is not an easy task," he said. "The timing is the issue," he said, adding the plan is for Dr Mahathir to pass a government that is "totally intact" to Mr Anwar.