Malaysia’s Mahathir says would back old foe Anwar as prime minister

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FILE PHOTO: Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad smiles during an interview with Reuters in Putrajaya

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is seeking the release of jailed opposition leader, and once bitter foe, Anwar Ibrahim, and would have no objection to him being premier, the Guardian reported on Thursday.

In an interview with the Guardian in London, Mahathir said Anwar should be released from jail, where he is serving a five-year sentence for sodomy, and allowed to contest elections as he was a victim of a political vendetta.

Anwar is seen as the greatest threat to Prime Minister Najib Razak and his coalition, after leading a three-party opposition alliance to stunning electoral gains in 2013.

“In the case of Anwar we can make a case that he was unfairly treated. The decision of the court was obviously influenced by the government and I think the incoming government would be able to persuade the king to give a full pardon for Anwar,” Mahathir told the Guardian.

“In which case he would be able to participate in politics and become PM. I can have no objection to that.”

Malaysia’s political landscape has been shaped for nearly two decades by a bitter feud between Anwar and Mahathir.

Anwar was once a protege of the veteran prime minister, Mahathir, and the rising star of Malaysian politics, but they fell out in the late 1990s.

Soon afterwards, Anwar was jailed for the first time on charges of sodomy and graft, after being sacked as the deputy prime minister. He denied the charges, dismissing them as politically motivated.

He was convicted and jailed in 2013, when Najib was prime minister, for another sodomy charge, which he and his supporters described as a politically motivated attempt to end his career.

But after their years of animosity, opposition to Prime Minister Najib is drawing Anwar and Mahathir back together.

Last year, Anwar endorsed a political compact spearheaded by Mahathir to fight Najib.

Najib has been embroiled in a corruption scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad. He has denied any wrongdoing, even as the fund became the subject of money laundering investigations in the United States and at least five other countries.

The sodomy conviction disqualifies Anwar from political office and from contesting the next election that must be held by mid-2018. A royal pardon, however, would let him contest.

Government sources have told Reuters that Najib had been preparing to call polls in September, but the timing has since become less clear in the wake of the scandals.

Last month, Anwar said he would not be a candidate for prime minister in the upcoming elections.

Mahathir, who turns 92 next week, has said he would consider taking up the premier position again, but only if there was no acceptable candidate after an opposition election victory.

(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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