Malaysia abuzz as old foes Mahathir, Anwar join hands
BITTER foes Mahathir Mohamad and his estranged protégé Anwar Ibrahim met for the first time in 18 years on September 5, underscoring shifting political alliances caused by a corruption scandal plaguing Malaysia’s current leader Najib Razak.
Mr Mahathir inflamed social media with a show of support at a court appearance by Mr Anwar, the former opposition leader jailed last year following a controversial sodomy conviction – the same charge Mr Mahathir hurled at him in 1998.
The face-to-face encounter was the first since their stormy 1998 rift, Mr Anwar’s wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said on Facebook.
Images of the political heavyweights smiling and shaking hands were shared widely online, highlighting the political flux caused by outrage over scandal-tainted Mr Najib.
Mr Najib is accused of involvement in looting billions of dollars in state money. He denies the charge and has cracked down in response.
Mr Mahathir, who imposed his will on Malaysia for 22 years as prime minister before retiring in 2003, has led calls for Mr Najib’s arrest.
Any potential rapprochement between the cagey Mr Mahathir and the charismatic Mr Anwar – whose rivalry continues to reverberate in Malaysian politics – could be a game-changer.
Mr Anwar was heir apparent to Mr Mahathir until he was sacked in 1998 by his boss over political differences, an episode that deeply divided the country.
Charged with sodomy and corruption, Mr Anwar was jailed six years, but emerged to revitalise the previously ineffectual opposition until he was jailed again in 2015 by Mr Najib’s government.
Mr Mahathir played down the meeting.
“I don’t know about friends, but I know I talked to him,” Dr Mahathir said, chuckling, when reporters asked after the encounter whether the two were friendly again.
“I met him and had a long chat with him about what he was doing,” he added, while denying they had “made peace”.
Mr Mahathir said he was merely showing support for a legal challenge launched by Mr Anwar against a draconian new security law rammed through last year by Mr Najib.
But the encounter quickly went viral in politics-obsessed Malaysia.
It remains to be seen whether a politically significant détente can be achieved given the baggage between the two men.
The formidable opposition alliance that Mr Anwar forged has crumbled since his jailing.
Mr Najib, meanwhile, has tightened his grip on the country and used the powerful ruling coalition’s
Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad (centre) arrives in court in support of his former deputy Anwar Ibrahim, who was jailed again last year by the government on a controversial sodomy charge.