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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Malaysian PM rallies for successor and former foe Anwar Ibrahim

Anwar Ibrahim was once a high-flying member of the former ruling coalition but was convicted after a power struggle

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has been elected to the premiership for a second time. AFP
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has been elected to the premiership for a second time. AFP

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is campaigning for his designated successor and former political foe Anwar Ibrahim, urging voters to support his return to active politics.

Mr Mahathir's appearance at a late night political rally on Monday marked the first time in two decades that the two shared the same stage, after setting aside a bitter political feud to form an alliance that won a stunning victory in national elections in May.

Prime Minister Mahathir, 93, was elected a second time to the premiership, becoming the world's oldest leader in the Malaysia's first transition of power between parties since independence from Britain in 1957.

Mr Anwar could not participate in the polls due to a 2015 conviction for sodomy that he alleged was politically motivated, but he was freed and pardoned by King Muhammad V days after the general election.

Mr Anwar was once a high-flying member of the former ruling coalition but was convicted after a power struggle in 1998 with Mr Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years until 2003.

He was freed in 2004, but convicted again in 2015.

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The unlikely partnership with the prime minister – under the banner of the Alliance of Hope – was put into motion by a massive corruption at a state investment fund that prompted Mr Mahathir to turn on his former party and return to politics.

In Sunday's parliamentary by-election, to fill a vacant seat for the southern coastal town of Port Dickson, Mr Anwar is expected to easily complete his bid to return to parliament and prepare for his eventual takeover from Mr Mahathir. He faces six other candidates.

Prime Minister Mahathir had earlier said he would not go to Port Dickson to campaign for Mr Anwar because the race was a minor by-election. He later changed his mind, a move that appeared symbolic and a way to show that the past conflict had been buried.

"I hope that in this by-election, victory will be given to the Alliance of Hope, to Anwar. I hope that we can continue to work together ... not for Mahathir or Anwar but for our beloved country," Prime Minister Mahathir told about 2,000 people seated in a large tent for the rally.

He spoke little about Mr Anwar, using most of his speech to promote a united government to tackle huge national debts due to corruption under the previous government.

Mr Anwar, in his speech, paid tribute to Mr Mahathir as a statesman who helped save the country from the brink of economic destruction. He reiterated that he will focus on parliamentary reforms and has no intention of interfering with the prime minister's governance.

"In this current situation, it is better for Mahathir to lead the country. I say this with all humility. I love him as a father and as a leader. I fought against him and now I accept that he is the best man to lead Malaysia now," Mr Anwar said.

Prime Minister Mahathir has said he expects to be in office for at least two years and will keep his promise to hand over power to Mr Anwar.