Malaysian minister Azmin calls on Mahathir to not make way for Anwar

A combination photo shows Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (L-R), politician Anwar Ibrahim and Minister of Economic Affairs Azmin Ali in Malaysia on March 28, 2019, May 17, 2018 and September 5, 2018.
Reuters

The fractious relationship between two key Malaysian leaders - premier-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim and top minister Azmin Ali - took a new twist on Monday when Azmin called for Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to serve out his full five-year term instead of making way for Anwar.

In a statement echoing similar demands from rival opposition parties, economic affairs minister Azmin said Mahathir's leadership was key to ensuring "stability, continuity and consistency of government policies to drive investment as well as create jobs and prosperity for everyone".

Opposition support for Mahathir would create a new era of bipartisanship allowing for more institutional reforms, Azmin added.

Over the weekend allied opposition parties the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) called for Mahathir, 94, to remain prime minister until the end of his term.

"PAS and Umno take the same stand that they will defend the premiership of Dr Mahathir until the next general election," PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang said in an interview with party-owned newspaper Harakah.

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This comes after Mahathir threw his support behind Azmin when the latter was implicated in a viral gay sex tape that was disseminated to the media, mirroring allegations that have long pursued People's Justice Party (PKR) president and democracy icon Anwar regarding his sexuality.

Azmin has maintained the videos were a fabricated inside job, with supporters from within the party pointing the finger at Anwar's rival faction.

Mahathir, who led the Pakatan Harapan coalition to power last year, has promised to step down before the next general elections in 2023 to make way for Anwar, although the handover timeline is unclear.

Insiders believe Mahathir, who was also prime minister from 1981 to 2003, is reluctant to hand over power to Anwar, who served as Mahathir's deputy from 1993 to 1998 before being charged with sodomy - a crime in Muslim-majority Malaysia - and corruption.

Instead, the leader seems to quietly be backing Azmin for the top job, a rumour that has created rifts within PKR, where Azmin is deputy president.

Anwar, who has been imprisoned for sodomy twice - again in 2015 while serving as opposition leader - has seen his ties with his former protege Azmin sour and spill over into a storm of words this month after he urged Azmin to resign if he was "identified conclusively" as the man in the viral video, which depicts two men having sex in a hotel room.

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In response, Azmin said Anwar should "look at the man in the mirror" and reflect on himself, a statement many believed was in reference to Anwar's sodomy charges, for which he received a full royal pardon last year after Pakatan Harapan won the general elections.

Meanwhile, last week police arrested and remanded Anwar's political secretary Farhash Wafa Salvador Rizal Mubarak, adding fuel to speculation that the sex video was a ploy to discredit Azmin from within the party.

In a post on his personal blog, Mahathir, without mentioning names, claimed the person behind the video scandal had sought to manipulate him into making a decision to hamper "a certain individual's" political advancement.

"The hope is that I will disqualify the targeted individual … I will not be made use of, especially not by a mastermind who has evil intentions and uses dirty politics," the prime minister wrote.

Anwar has denied any involvement in the sex tape scandal.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.