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Anwar says he will succeed Mahathir as Malaysia prime minister around 2020

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Malaysian ruling party leader Anwar Ibrahim, who's widely expected to be the country's next prime minister, said his succession should happen by 2020.

[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysian ruling party leader Anwar Ibrahim, who cut a deal to become the country’s next prime minister ahead of last year’s election, said he should take power around May 2020.

“There’s an understanding that it should be around that time, but I don’t think I should be too petty about the exact month,” Mr Anwar said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Haslinda Amin in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, when asked whether the transition would happen two years after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad took power. “But there is this understanding that he will resign and that I should assume it.”

Mr Anwar, 72, dismissed reports that Minister of Economic Affairs Azmin Ali or Mukhriz Mahathir, the prime minister’s son, would be considered for the role instead of him. Mr Anwar’s political secretary had been briefly detained in July over leaked sex videos allegedly featuring Mr Azmin, deputy leader of the ruling People’s Justice Party.

“There’s no sign of any party introducing or promoting or lobbying for other names,” Mr Anwar said. “This does not stop other individuals with ambitions with their own design. And this to me is quite irrelevant. Whether it has been discussed, whether it has been given legitimacy, the answer is no.”

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Questions over when Mr Anwar will take power have loomed over Malaysian politics ever since Mahathir led the coalition to a surprise victory last year. The conflict between Mahathir’s two likely successors raised the possibility the 94-year-old would extend his stay in power as the ruling party struggled to contain internal dissent.

‘ECOLOGICAL WARFARE’

In the interview, Mr Anwar reserved his strongest comments on the impact of the forest fires burning in Indonesia that have caused a dangerous haze in parts of Southeast Asia, disrupting air travel and forcing the closure of schools.

“We should feel outraged and I consider this an ecological warfare,” Mr Anwar said. “It is not a small matter. It is affecting essentially millions of our people,“ he said, noting this requires governments to be more assertive. “We have to be stronger, regardless of whether it’s Malaysia, Singapore or Indonesia – I mean these are big companies. Why are we not making sure they are being held accountable and at least bear part of the cost.”

Stinging smoke from illegal burning to clear land for palm oil and paper plantations has covered western and central regions of Indonesia and parts of Malaysia, with thousands of people reporting acute respiratory illness. It’s revived fears of a repeat of 2015 when a total of 2.6 million hectares of land was affected, costing Indonesia 221 trillion rupiah (S$21.6 billion) in economic losses.

1MDB Trial

Mr Anwar urged a review of the contract for the East Coast Rail Link, which has been a feature of the trial of Najib Razak. The former leader has been accused of offering projects to China in exchange for help resolving troubled state fund 1MDB’s debt.

Mr Mahathir has made the 1MDB investigation a priority. He vowed to recoup billions of dollars allegedly lost through the fund and bring to book the culprits in the scandal. The government has brought charges against Najib, who faces 42 counts of corruption and money laundering, fugitive financier Jho Low, and 17 current and former directors of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

A witness at Najib’s trial said China’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, or SASAC, was offered projects including the East Coast Rail Link, which had been put on hold by Mahathir before being resumed at a lower cost of RM44 billion (S$14.5 billion). The Trans-Sabah gas pipeline, a Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok high-speed rail and the development of offshore financial hub Labuan were also tabled at the meeting, the witness said.

SEDITION REFORM

Government policy must also ensure fair distribution of wealth, fight corruption to address state leakages and reform the sedition law, Mr Anwar said.

“The sedition law as it stands now cannot be defended and that has been our position,” Mr Anwar said. “In the past extensive discussions, debates and there was a consensus and we have to honor that.”

The government must also allay fears and concerns of ethnic Malays, noting affirmative action is vital for all races to escape poverty, he told Bloomberg.

Since taking government, Pakatan Harapan has struggled to maintain the support of the country’s Malay Muslim population, who make up the country’s majority. Backlash from Malay groups forced the administration to backtrack from its promises to ratify international treaties on anti-discrimination and crimes against humanity.

BLOOMBERG