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Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, right, and president of the People’s Justice Party, Anwar Ibrahim, during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, June 1, 2018 (AP photo by Vincent Thian).

Fractious Party Politics Threatens to Upend a Succession Plan in Malaysia

Friday, Feb. 7, 2020

Malaysia’s veteran 94-year-old prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, returned to power in May 2018 after promising voters that his archfoe-turned-ally, Anwar Ibrahim, would succeed him partway through his five-year term. Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan coalition agreed on the succession plan ahead of its upset victory over Najib Razak’s scandal-plagued government in the 2018 elections. Mahathir himself said shortly after being sworn in that he would lead for an “initial stage, lasting one or two years,” before stepping down. Yet as the two-year mark approaches, no date has been set for that handover and calls for a transition are growing louder.

Mahathir’s proposed time frame for stepping down keeps shifting. Last May, a year after becoming prime minister, he suggested he could continue for “at least” another year, indicating a desire to stay on past mid-2020. Then, in December, Mahathir told Reuters in an interview that he would not vacate his post before November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, due to be held in Kuala Lumpur. He raised eyebrows in Malaysia by adding that “if people don’t want [Anwar], that’s their business,” implying that not all parliamentarians support a change in leadership. ...

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