He told the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia annual general assembly, which he chairs, that the opposition’s goal before the 14th general election was to prosecute scandal-ridden former prime minister Najib Razak.
The 93-year-old called for broader ethnic support. “Once, we were the opposition and we formed a party and we hoped the party to gain the support from the [ethnic] Malays. However, if we can only garner the support of the Malays without other parties, I’m not sure we can win,” he added.
He said the party should try to recruit former adversaries, including ex-members of Najib’s ailing Umno party.
“We Malays are the poorest in our country. We are 60 per cent [of the population] but we have become smaller as we break into separate parties.”
Mahathir’s decision to resign from Umno proved a key factor in persuading many ethnic Malays to shift their allegiance away from the governing party.
Coalitions with other parties were essential to further electoral success, Mahathir said, likening the situation to West Asian countries that were constantly at war because of their refusal to compromise.
“We have been negotiating with our colleagues and one of the conditions imposed is that this prime minister, also their former foe, will only serve as an interim prime minister.
“More important thing then was Najib. For that reason we have to sacrifice, I need to sacrifice and to accept the condition because the main thing is not to be prime minister but to bring down Najib,” he told the gathering.
Mahathir said May’s electoral triumph in what had previously been a one-party state was based on making tough compromises with former foes in pursuit of wider goals.
He also warned that parties which gagged their members would be crushed at the ballot box.
People’s Justice Party (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim is seen as the prime minister-in-waiting. The PKR is the largest party in the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition. Anwar was comfortable with the succession plans, Mahathir, his former jailer in the late 1990s, told the gathering.
“I think he feels comfortable that he will succeed me, maybe in two years, I don’t know … I’m not going to be the prime minister until the next election,” he said.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Picture credit: Kremlin