Elder statesmen and former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is formulating a strategy to oust the government and would be a contender for the leadership if he can outflank his former deputy Anwar Ibrahim. If he can’t, then Mahathir says he will back Shafie Apdal, a savvy chief minister from the state of Sabah in Borneo, as Malaysia’s next leader. Mahathir declared his support for Shafie in a video posted online a week ago, and both politicians are prepared for a looming showdown with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin when parliament sits later this month. However, Malaysia’s disparate opposition parties have not endorsed Shafie and Anwar has reportedly blocked moves by Mahathir to take the leadership for a third time. Mahathir unexpectedly resigned as prime minister in February, triggering the collapse of his administration and the rise of Muhyiddin, after he refused to hand power to Anwar — his sometimes nemesis and sometimes political ally — as promised before elections in 2018.
In a recent interview with CNBC, Mahathir, who turns 95 on July 10, tried to justify his broken promise, saying Anwar “is not very popular with the Malays” who make up more than 60 percent of Malaysia’s population. Muhyiddin’s majority has not been tested in parliament where Mahathir has moved a no confidence motion in the 222-seat assembly and politics is dominated by fractious coalitions. “The new prime minister claims that he has the majority, but he’s so worried about his majority that parliament has not been allowed to sit,” Mahathir told CNBC. “When the parliament was opened by the king, only the speech of the king was heard. No debates were allowed.” Mahathir’s resignation threw Malaysian politics into disarray and ended a reform agenda that was widely applauded by human rights activists seeking an end to the death penalty and a better deal for the poor, including migrant workers. His return to the top job with a landslide victory at elections in 2018 also ended the disastrous and corrupt years of Najib Razak, who is before the courts on charges of money laundering and the siphoning of millions of dollars into his personal bank accounts. “There was much hope when Mahathir came out of retirement and was back in control, and he did much in terms of putting Malaysia back on the right track,” said one Malaysian-based analyst who declined to be named. “But that’s changed and we’re in a period of political instability which might be resolved when parliament sits, but at the same time it might not. Muhyiddin is yet to prove he can run the country and the opposition forces arraigned against him are formidable. “It might take another election before this mess is cleared up.”
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