The Mahathir-Anwar rapprochement highlights shifting political alliances in Malaysia, according to a report in the New York Times.
It said: “An improbable reunion took place at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur this week, offering a snapshot of Malaysia’s fractious yet incestuous politics.”
Imprisoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was briefly allowed out of his cell on Monday to challenge the National Security Council Act.
Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, the man who first put Anwar in jail on an earlier sodomy charge, arrived in court to show support for Anwar’s action. Both men, who had not met since 1998, shook hands and spoke to each other.
Mahathir, Anwar’s mentor turned nemesis, now wants Anwar to join forces with him against another ex-protégé: the current prime minister, Najib Razak.
Mahathir, 91, has fiercely criticised Najib and the scandals in the current administration, notably that involving 1Malaysia Development Bhd.
As part of the move to unseat Najib at the next general election, Mahathir has formed a new political party, Bersatu. He has said that Bersatu would work with the federal opposition in the general election.
The NYT report posed the question as to whether this handshake could alter the political balance in favour of the opposition.
It quoted Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah as saying Mahathir’s conciliatory gesture was a “good start”.
Ibrahim Suffian of the Merdeka Centre was quoted as saying while Anwar’s base was urban, Mahathir was popular among traditional Umno voters in rural areas.
“Partnering with Mahathir could enable the existing opposition to get more votes from Malay voters than they have been able to in the past 60 years,” Ibrahim said.
However, Shahril Hamdan, a member of the Umno Youth Executive Committee, disagreed. He was quoted as saying: “The opposition remains a haphazard, dysfunctional coalition of parties with diametrically opposed ideologies that cannot agree on basic policy platforms.
“A couple of photos in a courtroom do not change that fact.”
The report talked about how Malaysian politics is divided along ethnic and religious lines and how most parties represent an ethnic or religious group.
This situation, it noted, had led to “uneasy marriages of fortune”, especially on the opposition side.
It also talked about how Najib was “preying” on the opposition’s weaknesses while consolidating his power in recent years “through a spate of repressive measures”.
FMT Reporters Online