Malaysia’s new prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, and his jailed ally Anwar Ibrahim (pictured) tried to ease disagreements within the ruling coalition yesterday (Sunday) between their supporters over cabinet positions.
Anwar, the former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, is due to be released from prison tomorrow (Tuesday), his daughter has said.
He is serving a second prison sentence for sodomy, which many believe was politically motivated and the result of judicial pressure brought by then prime minister, Najib Razak.
The four-party opposition alliance won Wednesday’s general election over the Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957.
Anwar announced from his hospital that he had told his People’s Justice Party (PKR) to ensure the new government “remains strong and stable”.
He said he and Mahathir had discussed “more inclusive negotiation”, in reference to the formation of a balanced cabinet.
Meanwhile, Mahathir told state television: “It will be made up when we make up the rest of the cabinet. Surely there will be some conflict in need and wants of each party. This will be determined by the prime minister.”
Anwar’s PKR has the majority of parliamentary seats won by the bloc. The complex relationship between Mahathir and Anwar, who was groomed as Mahathir’s successor before he was jailed on the prime minister’s orders.
Mahathir, who was prime minister from 1981 to 2003, launched vigorous attacks on the judiciary’s independence, had peaceful protesters arrested under security laws and gagged the media.
He bolstered Malaysia’s policy of affirmative action, under which ethnic Malays enjoy discounts on housing, a university quota system that was officially abolished in 2002 but is believed to persist, as well as preferential access to government jobs and state-sector contracts. The programme has spurred the departure of many ethnic-Chinese Malaysians in a “brain drain” of skilled citizens, who account for about a third of Malaysia’s 1 million-strong diaspora, according to the World Bank.
Mahathir’s electoral triumph last week was partly credited to his populist promise to remove the unpopular new goods and services tax (GST) on consumption and reinstall fuel subsidies.
The GST and the removal of fuel subsidies were blamed for rising living costs.
But they were key reforms to reinvigorate public finances, cut its fiscal deficit and broaden the tax base.
Mahathir’s son Mukhriz has been restored as chief minister of the state of Kedah after being ousted by Najib in 2016 for criticising government corruption. It has been suggested that Mukhriz could be prepared for the top job to replace his 92-year-old father.
Anwar Ibrahim. Picture credit: Wikimedia