Anwar Ibrahim made a triumphant return to the Malaysian Parliament on Monday as a lawmaker, then said he was in no rush to return to the Cabinet and would give Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad space to run the country.
“I stand by my earlier decision that I don’t intend to serve any positions. I’m happy with this position [as an MP],” he said at a press conference in Parliament in Kuala Lumpur.
Anwar said plans to eventually make him the eighth prime minister were not a priority at the moment, as the PM – his former mentor then fierce rival – needed to be given some freedom to lead the government.
“That is very important because some key fundamental decisions have to be made by Dr Mahathir and the Cabinet,” he said. These related to government policies and to reverse flawed decisions of the previous Barisan Nasional administration, adding that they were issues he needed to support.
MPs applauded as Anwar took the oath of office following his victory in a byelection for the seat of Port Dickson. It was a staggering comeback, given he was an opposition leader languishing behind bars not long ago.
The former deputy premier’s remarkable political resurrection was triggered by his alliance’s shock election victory in May, which toppled the government of Najib Razak.
Following the triumph, Anwar was pardoned and released from jail, where had been imprisoned since 2015 on widely criticized sodomy charges, and is now the presumptive successor to the country’s leadership, AFP reported.
Mahathir, 93, has pledged to hand power to Anwar within two years. The deal was struck when the pair, whose up-and-down relationship has long loomed over Malaysian politics, formed an unlikely alliance to take on the government of Najib Razak.
Anwar needed to be elected as an MP again to succeed Mahathir, and he cruised to a thumping victory in Saturday’s poll in Port Dickson, where his opponents included a former aide whose sodomy accusations landed him in jail.
It is the first time that Mahathir – who, during a first stint as premier, sacked Anwar and had him thrown in jail – and his former foe have been in the same government since the 1990s.
Anwar, 71, wearing a traditional black Muslim cap, brushed aside questions about when he will become premier.
After their fallout, Anwar became a prominent opposition leader at the head of a reformist alliance. But Mahathir himself turned on the party he once headed as corruption allegations mounted against Najib, and later teamed up with Anwar.
Since his defeat, Najib has been charged over the alleged plundering of state fund 1MDB. He denies any wrongdoing.
Uighurs ‘did nothing wrong’
Mahathir, meanwhile, said on Monday that 11 ethnic Uighur Muslims who fled to Malaysia after breaking out of a Thai jail last year were freed because they did nothing wrong.
The Uighers were sent them to Turkey after Malaysia disregarded a request by China for them to be handed over to Beijing.
“They have done nothing wrong in this country, so they are released,” Mahathir told reporters. It was the government’s first comments since the men were released.
Muslim leaders in Malaysia, as well as representatives of other nations, are thought to have urged the new Mahathir government not to send the Uighurs back to China, because of concerns they would face severe persecution or even death if returned.
China has been accused of gross rights abuses in the western province of Xinjiang, which has caused thousands of Uighurs to flee abroad in recent years, often via Southeast Asia to Turkey.
– with reporting by Agence France-Presse