The 92-year-old doctor, who served 22 years as prime minister before stepping down in 2003, is taking on his old party alongside his former arch rival, ex-deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, whom he had jailed for corruption and sodomy.
If the opposition won, it would immediately seek a royal pardon for Anwar so that he could become prime minister, People’s Justice Party secretary general Saifuddin Abdullah told the alliance’s convention.
Mahathir says he is motivated by the desire to unseat his one-time ally, Prime Minister Najib Razak.
“I think it’s a job I have to do. I cannot accept this country being destroyed by selfish people who only think about themselves… who steal money,” Mahathir told CNN.
But polling in December by the independent Merdeka Centre suggested the opposition would have difficulty beating Najib, due to divisions within its camp and unfavourable electoral boundary changes.
It has been estimated that even if Najib’s share of the popular vote fell further, he could potentially regain a two-thirds parliamentary majority, according to Malaysian Insight.
The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, which was part of the opposition group in the 2013 election, is no longer part of the alliance.
Malaysia’s general election must be held before August, with many observers expecting it in March.
Anwar’s wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail is due to be the coalition’s candidate for deputy premier.
“[Opposition parties] have not been able to get rural Malay votes,” Mahathir said, explaining why he had been invited to lead the opposition.
“They had a majority of popular votes in 2013, but they were not able to get constituencies with Malay voters. They think I can.”
Mahathir also criticised his successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, although less vehemently than his bitter condemnation of Najib.
The US Justice Department has filed lawsuits since 2016 to recover more than US$1.7 billion that prosecutors said were laundered through the Malaysian 1MDB sovereign wealth fund headed by Najib.
Nearly US$30 million allegedly stolen from 1MDB was used to buy jewellery for the prime minister’s wife, including a rare 22-carat pink diamond set in a necklace, according to the Washington department in a civil lawsuit.
The US is also seeking a Picasso painting that was given to the Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio and the rights to two movies.
A supporter of Opposition People’s Justice Party during the 2013 general election. Picture credit: Wikimedia