Mahathir wants unity govt but Anwar says he has support to be PM
He claims he has backing of three parties in Pakatan Harapan coalition to take over from Dr Mahathir
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia was plunged into a bitter power struggle yesterday as Dr Mahathir Mohamad sought to form a unity government following his shock resignation, but old foe Anwar Ibrahim also pushed to become premier.
The shock developments deepened a crisis that began when the ruling coalition - which included both men when it stormed to a historic poll victory in 2018 - fell apart after a failed weekend bid to form a new government without Mr Anwar.
Mr Anwar was Dr Mahathir's designated successor, but he would likely have been pushed out and blocked from becoming leader if the weekend's bid had succeeded.
Their stormy relationship has shaped Malaysian politics since Dr Mahathir - during a first stint in office in the 1990s - sacked Mr Anwar as his deputy, and he was jailed on dubious sodomy and corruption charges.
They reconciled ahead of the 2018 polls to oust a corruption-plagued coalition led by Mr Najib Razak, but many were sceptical Dr Mahathir would stick to a vow to hand power to Mr Anwar.
Dr Mahathir - at 94 the world's oldest leader - was appointed interim leader following his resignation, and he appeared initially to have strong support to return as premier.
But backing fell away early today and rumours swirled Mr Anwar had garnered enough support from MPs for the top job.
Expectations rose that Dr Mahathir might finally cede power - only for the elderly leader to announce in a televised address to the nation that he wished to establish a unity government, and was willing to return as premier.
"Party politics must be put aside for now," he said.
"If allowed, I will try to form an inclusive government, not siding with any political parties.
"If I still have the support I will return. If not I will accept whoever is chosen," he added.
Moments later at his own press conference at his party headquarters, Mr Anwar said he had received support from three parties in the Pakatan Harapan coalition - the grouping in power until Dr Mahathir quit - to become premier.
Mr Anwar said the coalition had invited Dr Mahathir to a meeting on Tuesday evening, but he failed to show up. They then decided to put Mr Anwar forward as their candidate.
"Since the attempt to topple the government last week we have remained steadfast in defending the mandate of the Malaysian people," he said.
After reading the statement, he added: "We leave it to the palace to decide".
Officially, the Malaysian King appoints the prime minister, and Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin has been interviewing all the country's MPs since Monday to work out whom they support.
A candidate must have the support of at least 112 MPs - but it was not clear whether Mr Anwar or Dr Mahathir would achieve that, heightening the chances of a snap election.
Reports say Dr Mahathir had already proposed a unity government to leaders across the political spectrum on Tuesday, but they rejected the idea. - AFP