KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 22 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is highly popular now as prime minister, prime minister-in-waiting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has said.
In the interview with Al Jazeera English’s UpFront programme, Anwar also said there was no reason to ask Dr Mahathir to resign early and hand over the prime minister post to him.
When asked whether the majority of Malaysians would at this point of time prefer Dr Mahathir or him to be prime minister, Anwar said no survey on this has been conducted, but he readily acknowledged Dr Mahathir’s popularity.
“There’s no survey conducted, but I’m happy that Mahathir is now the prime minister.
“He has a major task. We need a tough, firm leader for now; he’s doing extremely well. I wouldn’t mind if Malaysians generally endorse that,” he told programme host Mehdi Hassan.
“I think he’s immensely popular, I would grant that, I don’t have qualms about that, I don’t need to be an apologist to suggest otherwise,” the PKR president-elect added.
Earlier, in the same interview, Anwar said Dr Mahathir’s response if there was continued harassment on when he will resign would naturally be to “let me stay, I have a task to perform”.
In response to how he could be confident that Dr Mahathir will eventually step down as prime minister in one to two years’ time instead of extending his tenure, Anwar highlighted a written agreement between all Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders and insisted he was in no rush to be the prime minister.
“I see no reason why I should even demand or harass him to resign earlier because I think what he’s doing now is important.
“And I have at least some latitude myself to go and meet old friends, relax a bit as a free man, be with my family, I’m not in a rush,” he said.
Pressed on him seemingly being “desperate” to return to politics and be prime minister earlier, Anwar said he wanted to push for reforms in Parliament and will leave the running of the government to Dr Mahathir.
“I was in prison a total 10.5 years. What do you do? Read and relax. Now, four months have passed since the last elections. And I think it’s time for me to re-enter Parliament to assist in parliamentary reform.”
“My understanding with Mahathir is that ‘you conduct the affairs of the state, let me then ensure parliamentary reforms are effective’,” he said to Mehdi.
Anwar was serving a five-year jail term, since February 10, 2015, for his Sodomy II conviction, but he was released when he received a royal pardon just a few days after PH came to power in the May 9 general elections.
A PKR MP on September 12 vacated the Port Dickson parliamentary seat, triggering the October 13 by-election that Anwar will be contesting to return to Parliament — a precondition for him becoming PM eventually.
Reflecting on the months leading up to the 14th general election, Anwar said that he had not anticipated the current situation — where PH would take over from Barisan Nasional and that he would be released from jail and assume the PM-in-waiting role.
“Certainly not. I was optimistic that we would secure victory, but I did not envisage this much enthusiasm expressed by Malaysians and the fact that I’m a free man,” he said in the same interview with UpFront host Mehdi.
As for how he could trust Dr Mahathir as an ally as the latter had supported his first sodomy conviction that saw him spending time in prison, Anwar said the 93-year-old man had proven his commitment to reforms in the past few months.
“He came up to me and said ‘Anwar, let’s work together to save the country, rid the country of corruption and abuse of power, I took time.
“It’s not a personal arrangement between Anwar and Mahathir. but he has shown remarkably well in terms of defending the reform agenda. And now he’s shown his commitment to the reforms and I have no reason to suspect other motives.
“But at that age and with that commitment, I think we should then allow him and for the last four months, we have been proven right. He seems to be consistent, effective and that’s why I and the party support him totally,” he said.
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