Timeline: Mahathir and Anwar’s turbulent relationship

The tussle between old rivals Mahathir, 94, and Anwar, 72, has shaped Malaysian politics for decades.

Anwar was Mahathir's deputy when the latter was prime minister during his first stint from 1981 to 2003 [Mohd Rasfan/AFP]

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad submitted his resignation to Malaysia’s king on Monday in a shocking turn of events.

The announcement comes amid plans by Mahathir’s supporters to join with opposition parties to form a new government that would exclude Anwar Ibrahim, his anointed successor.

Anwar, Malaysia’s prime minister-in-waiting for a second time, has accused the party of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and “traitors” in his own camp of planning to bring down the ruling coalition and form a new one to deny him the premiership, reiterating their decades-old clash.


Here are the key details of the feud between Anwar and Mahathir that has dominated Malaysian politics for years:

  • 1982 – As a rising young politician, Anwar joins Mahathir’s party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), soon after the latter becomes prime minister for the first time.
  • 1993 – Anwar rises rapidly in the party to become deputy prime minister, on course to succeed Mahathir.
  • 1998 – Months of feuding with Mahathir over Malaysia’s handling of the Asian financial crisis culminates in Anwar being sacked and accused of sodomy – a crime in Malaysia – and corruption. Tens of thousands take to the streets in support of Anwar who secures support from large numbers of Malay Muslims, the largest ethnic group in the multicultural country, to drive his Reformasi movement. 
  • 1999 – Anwar builds on the momentum for reform to found the Parti Keadilan Nasional or National Justice Party (KEADILAN) a forerunner of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), or the People’s Justice Party. Separately, Anwar is convicted and jailed on charges he maintains were politically motivated.
  • 2003 – Mahathir steps down after 22 years as prime minister.
  • 2004 – 2013 – Four years after his 2004 release, Anwar is again accused of sodomy by a male aide. Anwar says the accusations are aimed at removing him from his post as leader of the opposition, which came close to defeating Najib Razak – another Mahathir protege – in the disputed 2013 election.
  • 2015 – During Najib’s administration, Anwar is jailed for sodomy for a second time.
  • 2016 to 2017 – Mahathir quits UMNO amid calls for Najib to resign over a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal at state fund 1MDB. Mahathir forms a new party, Bersatu, before joining forces with Anwar’s opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH). He promises to seek a royal pardon for Anwar and hand him the premiership if the coalition succeeds in its bid to remove Najib and the UMNO-led government.
  • 2018 – The pair joins forces to lead the opposition to an unprecedented victory in the election on May 9, ending UMNO’s 60-year rule. Within a week, Anwar is pardoned and released.
  • 2019 – Anwar denies accusations of having sexually assaulted a former male aide, describing the claims as “politics at its worst”. The case is dropped on grounds of insufficient evidence.
  • 2020 – Mahathir faces pressure from Anwar’s allies in the coalition to set a date for the handover of power, sources say. Separate meetings at the weekend between politicians from the ruling coalition and UMNO spark talk of a possible alliance to form a new government. Anwar blames the bid on “our former friends” in Mahathir’s Bersatu and “a small faction of traitors” from his own party.
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies