Najib seeks support for Anwar’s premiership bid

KUALA LUMPUR (CNA) – Former Malaysian premier and now-ruling party lawmaker Najib Razak sought support from coalition lawmakers to back a prime ministerial bid by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, in another twist to the political crisis in Kuala Lumpur.

Anwar was one of the key leaders in a coalition that defeated Najib in a historic election in 2018. Najib has since been convicted of corruption and sentenced to 12 years in jail.

He’s out on bail and has appealed the verdict. Najib’s support for Anwar could deepen turmoil for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is facing calls to resign after Malaysia’s King rejected a request for him to declare emergency rule amid a leadership challenge from Anwar.

Muhyiddin has a two-seat majority in the Malaysian Parliament and any shift in support from within his coalition would mean he loses the majority. Najib, in response to reports on his support for Anwar, said his first suggestion was for his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party to push for a date for fresh elections once the COVID-19 outbreak is under control.

If that is rejected by the ruling coalition, UMNO should be open to working with Anwar’s party under certain conditions.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak leaves the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. PHOTO: CNA

In a Monday meeting of the Barisan Nasional coalition to which UMNO belongs, Najib asked lawmakers in the alliance to endorse Anwar, three sources familiar with the matter said. Many of his coalition allies were against the idea, they said.

UMNO said after a supreme council meeting that it will continue backing Muhyiddin Yassin’s government.

Anwar did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Najib’s backing of Anwar marks a striking turnaround in their relationship. Anwar, who has long led Malaysia’s opposition with a reform agenda, was jailed during the Najib administration on sodomy charges, which he denied and said were politically motivated.

Anwar then joined hands with foe-turned-ally Mahathir Mohamad, a longtime former prime minister, for the 2018 election in which they defeated Najib, who was facing graft allegations in a multibillion-dollar scandal. Mahathir, now 95, later stepped down and was replaced by Muhyiddin.

Anwar said last month that he had the support of majority lawmakers in Parliament, including administration defectors, to oust Muhyiddin. But he never identified who supported him.

Meanwhile, the ruling coalition is beset with infighting, with some UMNO officials baulking at playing second fiddle to Muhyiddin’s party.