Dr Mahathir Mohamad today said Anwar Ibrahim had failed to openly show support for him as prime minister following the PKR leader’s release from jail in the aftermath of the 2018 general election.
“Instead, he was more busy meeting with the rulers, and this was not seen as being supportive of me,” the former prime minister, whose resignation triggered the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government last year, said in a live interview with Malay daily Sinar Harian.
He said in contrast, Anwar would express his support in private when the two met.
“He would say that his ‘boys’ were naughty, he could not control them. That’s his excuse,” Mahathir said, referring to Anwar’s loyal followers who had called for a power transition at the tail end of the PH administration.
Mahathir was made prime minister following PH’s victory in the 2018 general election, under a deal between the top leadership in which it was agreed that he would hand over power to Anwar, who was serving jail time for a sodomy conviction.
Mahathir, who had previously defended his move to delay handing over the top post to Anwar, said it was always his intention to keep the promise.
“PH’s promise was that I would become the prime minister for a certain unspecified period, after which Anwar (would take over).
“I realised that there was so much work left to be done, so I could not tell when I would resign, although I wanted to resign. I wouldn’t break my promise and remain as prime minister till the 15th general election.
“But Anwar’s followers went around saying a lot of things about me, condemning me and telling me to quit, they were extremists,” Mahathir said.
Mahathir said he decided to let the pro-Anwar loyalists say what they wanted as he had work to do, adding that he had carefully planned a series of programmes for developing the economy and improving the education system.
“I had not wanted to remain as prime minister until I died. I would have stepped down, but they should have waited,” he said.
Mahathir also repeated his denial of a claim by former attorney-general Tommy Thomas.
Thomas, in his autobiography “My Story: Justice in the Wilderness”, claimed that Mahathir, after resigning as prime minister, had told him that the Agong wanted to appoint Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail to replace him.
“He said that I told him. I would never have said that because it was not true at all.
“It’s illogical. When I asked him, he said I was the one who told him. I couldn’t have said something that did not take place.”
Mahathir had assumed the role of interim prime minister on the Agong’s request, until Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn into office on March 1, 2020.
Meanwhile, Mahathir said Muhyiddin was able to remain in power despite possessing a razor-thin majority as those against him would be politically vulnerable if they revoked their support for the government.
He gave examples of former prime minister and Pekan MP, Najib Razak and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who have been at the forefront of criticism against Muhyiddin’s government.
“Muhyiddin rules only with a majority of two or three (MPs). If these three revoke their support, the government will fall.
“But these three would also fall if they stop (supporting the government).
“Say if Najib or Zahid is not happy with Muhyiddin. If they quit, not only Muhyiddin, they too would fall.”
‘My greatest regret’
Mahathir in the interview said one of his greatest regrets during his long political career was stepping down from power after 22 years in 2003, during his first term as prime minister.
But when asked if he similarly regretted resigining again in 2020, he said it was because he was left with no choice.
“I was forced to resign. My party had collapsed,” he said.
He said he was not bothered by how he would be judged.
“Even before I die, people have been telling all sorts of things. To me, that’s all part of politics.”
In an emotional conclusion to the interview, Mahathir, his voice breaking, said he had managed to continue his work despite the heavy criticism.
“(It’s due to) love of my race,” said Mahathir.