Malaysia’s former premier Dr Mahathir could be world’s oldest PM
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Malaysia’s former premier Dr Mahathir could be world’s oldest PM

MALAYSIA’s fractured opposition has finally assigned a prime ministerial candidate for the elections due in August, who if re-elected, would be the world’s oldest leader.

On Sunday, the Pakatan Harapan (Pact of Hope) named 92-year old former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad as its frontrunner while the country’s most popular opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim remained in jail.

Dr Mahathir is seen as the biggest threat to Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is engulfed in a corruption scandal.

SEE ALSO: Malaysia in retrospect

Dr Mahathir, who earned a reputation during his 22-year tenure as prime minister as a no-nonsense authoritarian with little time for dissenters promoting liberal values, stands to become the world’s oldest leader if the opposition wins.

A victory could also potentially pave the way for Dr Mahathir’s former foe Anwar to become the prime minister.

Dr Mahathir and Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, will be the Pakatan Harapan coalition’s candidates for the premier and deputy prime ministerial posts respectively, Secretary-General Saifuddin Abdullah said at the alliance’s convention.

If the opposition wins, the component parties have agreed to immediately commence the legal processes to obtain a royal pardon for Anwar, Saifuddin said.

He said:

“…So that Anwar could immediately play a role in the federal government and subsequently be proposed as a candidate for the eighth prime minister.”

The Mahathir-Anwar coalition and their endorsement of each other is a turnaround from their bitter feud that has shaped Malaysia’s political landscape for nearly two decades.

Anwar was once Dr Mahathir’s protege and the rising star of Malaysian politics, but they had a falling-out in the late 1990s. Soon afterwards, Anwar was jailed on charges of sodomy and graft, after being sacked as the deputy prime minister. He denied the charges, dismissing them as politically motivated.

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Anwar pauses as he speaks to his assistants at a break session during his sodomy trial in Kuala Lumpur, on Feb 14, 2011. Source: Reuters/Bazuki Muhammad/File Photo

Anwar later led an opposition alliance to stunning electoral gains in 2013. Najib’s Barisan Nasional coalition lost the popular vote in that election, but managed to stay in power after winning a majority of the seats in parliament.

Anwar was again convicted in 2014 for sodomy, a charge he says was an attempt to end his career, and jailed a year later after failing to overturn the verdict.

The sodomy conviction disqualifies Anwar from political office and from contesting the next election. A royal pardon, however, would let him contest.

Opposition to Najib has brought Anwar and Dr Mahathir back together, with their parties now working in the opposition coalition.

A political observer said although Dr Mahathir brought invaluable experience to the opposition table, the former premier was associated with many controversies and scandals that plagued his administration.

SEE ALSO: Malaysian opposition to release Anwar ‘within a week’ if it takes power – Dr Mahathir 

Universiti Utara Malaysia’s  Kamarul Zaman Yusoff, however, conceded that Dr Mahathir was the top pick given his strong influence and experience.

“But at the same time, the coalition’s opponents may use this as ammunition and highlight the lack of capable leaders within PH (Pakatan Harapan), having to rely on a 92-year old former premier with his own baggage.

“Additionally Dr Mahathir’s promises of a wholesale reform of the Malaysian political system is somewhat questionable, seeing as it was he who laid its groundwork to begin with,” he said, as quoted by the Malay Mail Online.

Najib has been embroiled in a corruption scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). In civil lawsuits, the US Justice Department has alleged that about US$4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB.

The fund has denied any wrongdoing and Najib, who founded 1MDB, has denied all allegations of corruption against him and was cleared of wrongdoing by Malaysia’s attorney-general.

Additional reporting by Reuters