By Joseph Sipalan and Rozanna Latiff
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s would-be leader Anwar Ibrahim on Sunday accused 94-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s party and “traitors” in his own camp of plotting a wholesale change in the ruling coalition that could ultimately deny him the premiership.
After being promised that he would one day become prime minister, Anwar allied with former rival Mahathir to win a surprise victory in the 2018 general election and end the six-decade grip of a party accused of widespread corruption.
But on Sunday politicians from the coalition held talks at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur on a possible new alliance with members of the ousted former ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), political sources said.
“We know there are attempts to bring down PH and form a new government,” Anwar said, referring to the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition that he helped form under Mahathir, who leads the Bersatu party.
Anwar said of the alleged plotters that: “It involves our former friends in Bersatu and a small faction of traitors from PKR.”
Anwar’s PKR party is the biggest constituent of the current alliance, but it is beset by internal divisions. Meanwhile, Mahathir has said in recent months that he needs more time for a planned transition for which he has never set a date.
Forming a new coalition could allow Mahathir to serve out a full term instead of handing over to Anwar as promised.
One source with knowledge of the matter said Mahathir had been angry that he came under pressure from pro-Anwar ministers to set a clear timetable for a handover at a meeting of the coalition on Friday.
Mahathir’s own Bersatu party held a special meeting earlier on Sunday. Neither he nor the party commented on what had been discussed.
Some Malaysians expressed their anger on social media over the speculation of a new alliance, saying the coalition they voted for to bring in reforms now threatened to betray them by partnering with the political parties they voted out.
Anwar had served as deputy prime minister and finance minister during Mahathir’s first 22-year stint in office under UNMO, but was sacked in 1998 after falling out over how to defend the economy against the Asian Financial Crisis.
Anwar was jailed twice on sodomy charges that he said were politically motivated. He was released on a royal pardon after the 2018 election.
He is a member of parliament but does not hold a ministerial post. His wife is the country’s deputy prime minister.
(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan and Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Krishna Das, Matthew Tostevin and Alex Richardson)