Asia

Malaysia's Dr Mahathir to stay as PM till after Apec

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s ruling pact Pakatan Harapan (PH) has unanimously agreed to maintain Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as premier until the 94-year-old leader decides to step aside.

“We have discussed extensively the coalition’s future. There were two opinions, but in the end, it was all left to me. I said the transition is after APEC. No time, no date, no nothing. It’s up to me,” Dr Mahathir told reporters close to midnight on Friday (Feb 22) after the PH presidential council meeting.

Dr Mahathir’s words affirmed his own earlier statement that he would hand over power to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, leader of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in November, which Malaysia is hosting.

However, Dr Mahathir did not commit to a date, leaving observers speculating that the power transition may not happen immediately following the conclusion of APEC.

Mr Anwar, seated next to Dr Mahathir, sought to give the assurance that he is behind the premier’s decision.

“Our stand is clear… I suggested that Tun (Mahathir) is given the room to lead and when he sets the right time, then that’s when (it would happen). Until then I have to be patient,” Mr Anwar said.

Talk of the power transition has been growing the past month as Pakatan Harapan nears its two years of governance. Allegations of a statutory declaration (SD) signed by MPs supporting Dr Mahathir to stay on throughout the first term as PM and that the premier has the backing of the Lower House has picked up steam. Despite Dr Mahathir’s assurance that he would step aside after APEC, rumours continue to swirl that a leadership transition may not happen after all.

Dr Mahathir led the PH coalition to a stunning victory in a general election in May 2018, joining hands with former enemies, including Mr Anwar, on the promise that he would cede power to the latter .

Meanwhile another SD floated among the MPs, with signatures seeking to support Mr Anwar as the country’s eighth prime minister. A group of Mr Anwar’s supporters, called Otai Reformist 1998, had insisted that the handover be done this May.

The PH presidential council meeting on Friday saw the pact’s top leadership from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara in attendance.

Outside the meeting venue, about 100 PPBM Youth members turned up in support of their party chairman, Dr Mahathir.

While pro-Anwar campaigners have called for a clear transition date to be made, Mr Anwar has publicly played down the noise by calling for a focus on the economy.

The former foes appear to have mended fences.

On Thursday, Mr Anwar told reporters he is open to the idea of having Dr Mahathir be a part of the cabinet should the prime-minister-in-waiting eventually take the reins. However, Mr Anwar remains firm that he would not be part of Dr Mahathir’s cabinet.

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