By Hadi Azmi
People’s Justice Party (PKR) leader Anwar Ibrahim is expected to return to politics officially after a lawmaker vacated his seat on Wednesday, triggering a by-election to make way for Malaysia’s “prime minister in waiting.”
Anwar, who was released from prison on May 16 after receiving a royal pardon on sodomy convictions, will seek election to the parliamentary seat serving Port Dickson, south of Kuala Lumpur, and is expected to take over eventually as prime minister from Mahathir Mohamad. No date has been set for the by-election.
Former Navy Adm. Danyal Balagopal, who was elected to the seat for the first time in May, cited difficulties adapting to a political life after four decades of military service. He made the announcement during a press conference at PKR headquarters attended by party Secretary-General Saifuddin Nasution and Vice President Rafizi Ramli.
“Anwar agreed and is prepared to contest in Port Dickson. I am confident Anwar will win and become a member of parliament, and Malaysia’s eighth prime minister,” Danyal said.
Also on Wednesday, parliament’s upper house, which is controlled by the opposition Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, stalled the new government’s efforts to repeal the Anti-Fake News Act that was passed during the lead-up to the May 9 general election, when Barisan ruled the country.
Port Dickson will be the first seat contested by Anwar other than his hometown seat of Permatang Pauh in Penang state that he held for six terms, beginning in 1982. He rose to deputy prime minister but was forced from office after a falling-out with then-Prime Minister Mahathir when both were members of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the anchor party of the then-ruling Barisan bloc.
Anwar and Mahathir realigned last year, forming the Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance that upset UMNO’s Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition to wrest control of the government. Mahathir, 93, is expected to relinquish the prime minister’s office to Anwar in two years.
Anwar is credited with serving as PKR’s de facto leader and managing the election campaign from behind bars even though he did not hold an official post with the party. His return to office is essential for the succession plan because the constitution requires that the prime minister be an MP.
Speaking on behalf of Anwar, who was in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Saifuddin told reporters that PKR officials spoke to leaders of the other Pakatan member parties and they agreed to support the candidate.
“They have assured us of their full cooperation to ensure Anwar’s victory,” he said.
He also said that Anwar would not accept a government leadership post if elected, but would focus on parliamentary reforms.
“As an MP, Anwar who is also part of the PH presidential council, can play a more effective role in helping the government,” Saifuddin said.
In an interview with CNBC that was published before Danyal announced his resignation, Anwar said that a parliamentary seat would have to be vacated before he could run for office as an MP.
“That should happen very soon,” Anwar, 71, told the network.
“If I win, God willing, I will focus on parliamentary reform,” he said.
However, PKR Housing Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin pointed out that the party’s leadership did not follow the proper channels in selecting the candidate.
“Every decision made by the party needs to be done through the committee so that a consensus can be achieved that is in line with the spirit of reformation and democracy,” she said.
In response to the announcement about Anwar’s reentry to the political fray, BN official Khairy Jamaluddin posted a tweet suggesting that his coalition field a local candidate to face Anwar.
“It will prove to be difficult for BN to win, but still, a local face will put up a better fight,” he said.
Anwar has a strong chance of winning the election, no matter who runs against him, according to Wong Chin Huat, a political analyst with the Penang Institute.
“Most Malaysians would want to have an MP who is the future prime minister,” he told BenarNews.
“Anwar’s challenge is to show his statesmanship as the next prime minister without being seen as in a hurry and undermining Mahathir’s leadership,” Wong said.
Meanwhile, parliament’s upper house, also known as the senate, delayed the Anti-Fake News Act repeal in a party-line vote. Senate President S. A. Vigneswaran announced that 28 BN and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) senators voted against repealing the act, while 21 Pakatan senators voted for the repeal and three abstained.
Despite the change in power, the senate, whose members are political appointees, is controlled by those loyal to the previous government.
In August, the lower house voted to repeal the act.
Under the constitution, bills rejected by the Senate must be returned to the lower house for approval again before being presented to the senate for a second time. The senate then has 30 days to approve the bill, after which, regardless of the decision, it is presented to the king for his royal assent and gazetted as law.
The king can opt to not give royal assent to a bill, forcing it to be sent back to both houses to be voted again and returned for his approval. If he still does not approve the bill, it automatically is gazetted as law after 30 days.