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Malaysian Opposition Leader Anwar Says He's Not Talking to Ex-Prime Minister Najib About Joining Forces

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  • Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told CNBC on Friday that he's not talking to disgraced former Prime Minister Najib Razak about potentially working together in the next general election.
  • Speculation has been rife that Anwar and Najib, who are two political opponents, would join forces to go against Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
  • "With reference to Najib, it's not relevant. The question is not relevant," Anwar told CNBC when asked whether he would work with the former prime minister to achieve his political aims.

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told CNBC on Friday that he's not talking to disgraced former Prime Minister Najib Razak about potentially working together in the next general election.

Speculation has been rife that the two political opponents would join forces to go against Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. A general election is not due until 2023, but Muhyiddin has said Malaysia will hold one when the Covid pandemic is over as rivals question his parliamentary support.

"With reference to Najib, it's not relevant. The question is not relevant," Anwar told CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia" when asked whether he would work with the former prime minister to achieve his political aims.

"There's no basis. He's not leading the party. He's not engaged in any discussion with us. It's only a perception that there is that possibility, but he's on trial and I think it's going (to go on) for years. And I don't think there is any need or necessity to involve him in this series of negotiation that's taking place," said Anwar.

Najib is facing several trials linked to the financial scandal at state-owned fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad or 1MDB. He was found guilty of all seven charges in the first trial and is appealing the sentence.

Questions around the missing money from 1MDB contributed to the defeat of the Najib-led coalition in the 2018 general election, which saw the control of Malaysia's parliament changing for the first time since the country's independence in 1957.

The former prime minister kept his parliamentary seat, but stepped down as leader of his party.

A coalition that included Anwar's party formed the government following the last election. The opposition leader was in jail — for charges his supporters said were politically motivated — when the 2018 vote took place, but he gained a parliamentary seat through a by-election.

Anwar had been expected to take over as prime minister some time before the next election. But a split in his coalition early last year caused the collapse of the government he was supposed to lead, resulting in Muhyiddin taking over as prime minister.

Covid outbreak in Malaysia

Anwar has on several occasions claimed that he — instead of Muhyiddin — has the parliamentary support to become prime minister. But Muhyiddin managed to hang onto power when parliament last year passed his government's budget, which was seen as a test of support for the prime minister.

Parliament has not convened since a state of emergency was declared in January to curb a spike in Covid cases. Elections also cannot be held during the state of emergency, which will last until Aug. 1 but could be ended earlier if the number of daily cases gets under control.

Anwar said an election is a "secondary" concern given the still-high Covid infections in Malaysia. He questioned why parliament cannot convene to allow members to "deliberate" the government's pandemic response and vaccination program.

The opposition leader also doubted the government will achieve its target of vaccinating 80% of the Malaysian population by the end of this year. Statistics compiled by Our World in Data showed that less than 2% of the population has received at least one vaccine dose.

Malaysia has reported more than 367,900 cumulative cases of Covid and 1,363 deaths as of Thursday, health ministry data showed. The International Monetary Fund has downgraded its 2021 growth forecast for Malaysia from 7.8% to 6.5% as Covid lockdowns linger. 

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