Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim moved a step closer to completing his comeback from prison to the country’s top leadership Wednesday after a party-mate quit parliament, allowing him to contest a by-election.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who led Anwar’s party to a shock victory in May against Najib Razak, has vowed to hand over power to Anwar within two years.
Anwar, 71, received a royal pardon and was freed from jail shortly after the victory, and needs to be elected to parliament to qualify him to succeed Mahathir, 93.
The resignation of lawmaker Danyal Balagopal Abdullah of the Port Dickson constituency south of the capital Kuala Lumpur allows Anwar to stand in a by-election to fill the vacated seat.
Poll officials have not stated when the by-election will be held, though it is expected to take place within months.
Danyal, in a speech announcing his resignation, said he had been informed that Anwar would run in the district.
“I am confident that Anwar Ibrahim will win the seat hands down and proceed to become the next member of parliament for Port Dickson, and God willing, eventually become our nation’s 8th prime minister,” Danyal said.
Once tipped as Mahathir’s successor in the 1990s, ex-deputy premier Anwar fell out bitterly with his former boss, leading to his jailing on charges of sodomy.
The verdict was overturned in 2004 and Anwar was freed, enabling him to rise as the opposition’s leader, but he was jailed again for sodomy in 2015.
He has dismissed both convictions as politically motivated.
As Najib became increasingly embroiled in a financial scandal, Anwar’s party forged an unexpected alliance with Mahathir to challenge the then-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
Mahathir, who was prime minister from 1981-2003, had come out of retirement to lead the disparate opposition.
Penang Institute political scientist Wong Chin Huat told AFP “there is no evidence to suggest Mahathir is reneging on the pre-election promise of installing Anwar as his heir”.
With 50 MPs, Anwar’s party commands the lion’s share of the ruling Pact of Hope coalition’s seats in Parliament.
Until it was unseated in May, Najib’s coalition led by the United Malays National Organization ruled the country uninterrupted for six decades.
Najib now faces corruption charges over a massive financial scandal involving state fund 1MDB.