Malaysia abuzz as old foes Ma­hathir, An­war join hands

The Myanmar Times - - World -

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

Photo: AFP

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.

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