Dr Mahathir Mohamad says Anwar Ibrahim owes his rise on the political ladder to him, dismissing the stand among supporters of the PKR leader that he had been the main hurdle in Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) bid to return to power.
The former prime minister said it was Anwar who had rejected him in the aftermath of the collapse of the PH government last year.
“I never rejected him. Actually, Anwar is who he is because of me. Without me, Anwar is nobody. I promoted him up to become the deputy prime minister,” Mahathir said in an interview with Bernama last night, referring to the 1990s during his first 22 years of leading the government.
“There is no problem for me to work with him. But the problem is, he doesn’t want to work with me. And then, he said, ‘Dr Mahathir doesn’t like me, he doesn’t want to work with me, that’s why we split up.’ So the blame was on me,” said Mahathir.
Anwar was a prominent Islamist leader who led large-scale anti-government protests in the 1970s before he was brought into Umno when Mahathir took over power from Hussein Onn in 1981 to become the fourth prime minister.
Mahathir soon appointed Anwar to his Cabinet, a move seen as neutralising the influence of PAS. In less than two decades, Anwar quickly rose in Umno, becoming its deputy president and the deputy prime minister before his dramatic sacking in 1998 on charges of sodomy and abuse of power.
‘He wanted to be PM, zero role for me’
Mahathir’s comments came after a palace deadline for MPs to submit the name of their choice of prime minister to form the next government.
He said PH’s attempt to return to power had failed even when Perikatan Nasional was shaky due to its thin margin.
But he said efforts to forge cooperation with PH under Anwar did not happen because of Anwar’s insistence that Mahathir should not play any role.
“The condition imposed on me was that I should not hold any position in PH, let alone be the prime minister. He wanted to be prime minister. So I said to him, ‘I’ll be prime minister for six months, then you take over’,” said Mahathir.
“Then what is my role? I cannot be the prime minister, I cannot be in the party. He rejected me. But he cleverly told the people that it was I who rejected him.”
Under a deal agreed on among PH leaders, Mahathir, who led the government for the second time following the coalition’s historic electoral victory in 2018, was to hand over the top post to Anwar.
The coalition however fell apart before the transition could take place, with component parties bickering over the date for Mahathir to step down.