Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim announced on Wednesday the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition nominated him as its candidate for prime minister.
Anwar’s People’s Justice Party (PKR) members also said they were putting his name forward as the country’s leader.
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The announcement follows the resignation on Monday of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is currently running Malaysia in an acting capacity.
The struggle between Mahathir, 94, and Anwar, 72, who formed a surprise pact to win the 2018 election, has shaped Malaysian politics for more than 20 years and is at the root of the latest crisis.
Mahathir, the world’s oldest head of government in his role as interim prime minister, proposed a unified administration without political party allegiances at a time Malaysia faces a weakening economy and the impact of the new coronavirus.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mahathir spoke for the first time since the collapse of the ruling coalition, and apologised for the “political turmoil” he had caused.
“As a normal human being, I am bound to making mistakes. I apologise if my resignation was wrong,” the veteran leader said.
“If it is possible I will try to establish a government that does not favour any party. Only the interests of the nation will take precedence.”
In a statement, Anwar said he opposed “any efforts to form a backdoor government”.
“Pakatan invited Mahathir to chair a meeting to restore Pakatan Harapan, but he disagreed to attend the meeting on Tuesday,” said Anwar.
“Therefore, the presidential committee has decided that Anwar Ibrahim is the prime minister nominee for Pakatan.
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When Anwar was asked later at a press conference if he has enough votes to form a new government, he replied: “If not, we would not be here today,”
“On the issue of numbers, we have now surrendered it to the discretion of the king. It is completely improper, impolite to discuss that question because only the Agong (king) is privy to that matter,” he added.
“We wait for the decision of the king.”
In an attempt to end the crisis, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah has been meeting all 222 elected members of parliament over the past two days.
Those in the meetings said they were asked to name their favoured prime minister or whether they wanted new elections.
Anwar’s PKR still has 39 seats, after 11 renegade party members left the party on Monday. His alliance partners have also pleged further 63 votes, giving him at least 92. He still needs to convince smaller parties to align with him to achieve a majority.
A majority in parliament requires at least 112 seats.
While some politicians have openly voiced support for Mahathir to stay in office, it was not clear whether enough of them would give him their backing.
The volatile relationship between Anwar and Mahathir helped trigger the latest crisis after the latter resisted pressure to set a date for a promise made ahead of the 2018 election to transfer power to Anwar.
As well as personal relationships, politics in Malaysia is shaped by a tangle of ethnic and religious interests. More than half the country’s 32 million people are ethnic Malay and Muslim, but there are significant numbers of ethnic Chinese, Indian and other minorities.
A unity government cutting across party lines could give Mahathir even greater power than when he was first Malaysia’s prime minister between 1981 and 2003.
But the idea was rejected on Tuesday by an alliance of four parties, including the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Mahathir’s former party, which ruled Malaysia for 60 years until its defeat in 2018.
The four parties said they had told the king they wanted a new election instead.
Anwar was Mahathir’s deputy and a rising political star when Mahathir was prime minister but as the Asian Financial Crisis plunged Malaysia’s economy into recession in the late 1990s the two men fell out.
In 1998, Anwar was sacked and charged with sodomy and corruption, bringing thousands onto the streets demanding reform. Later found guilty, Anwar has maintained the charges were aimed at ending his political career.
With additional reporting from news agencies.