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The Turbulent Relationship Of Mahathir And Anwar – A Timeline

The Turbulent Relationship Of Mahathir And Anwar – A Timeline

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Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim have had a turbulent relationship for years. After joining forces again in 2018 to take down Barisan National, much to everyone’s shock and amazement, the duo are butting heads again following the fall of the Pakatan Harapan government to the hands of Perikatan Nasional.

Here’s a brief history of the love-hate relationship between Dr Mahathir and Anwar that has dominated Malaysian politics for years. We’ll start at the beginning when Anwar first joined UMNO.

Anwar and Dr Mahathir in 2019 (Credit: Malaysiakini)

1982 – Anwar joins UMNO soon after Dr Mahathir becomes Prime Minister for the first time.

I chose UMNO because it gives me the avenue to continue my battle, and I give my full support to the Prime Minister (Dr Mahathir), and the party that he is heading.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when he joined UMNO in 1982, as quoted by Utusan Malaysia via Cili Sos

Although most of us might remember Anwar as being an UMNO member, way back then, his decision to join the party had actually shocked his supporters.

In the 1960s and 70s, prior to joining any political party, Anwar was well known for being a founding member and president of an Islamic youth movement called the Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM) and a frequent critic of the Barisan Nasional-UMNO government.

As ABIM was Islamic-centric, many assumed he was going to join PAS. Anwar had allegedly said that the reason why he joined UMNO was that it was rotten and needed to be changed from the inside.

At the time, Dr Mahathir had only become president of UMNO for about a year and he was in the process of forming a government to lead the country with him.

The pair during Mahathir’s first stint as Prime Minister. (Credit:

1993 – Anwar climbs the ranks quickly and becomes Deputy Prime Minister to Dr Mahathir.

During his first year in UMNO, Anwar ran for UMNO Youth Leader seat and managed to win it. Then within the span of 4 years, he quickly moved on to being the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports (1983), then the Agricultural Minister (1984), and on to the Education Minister (1986). 

By 1991, Anwar was Finance Minister.

Many considered Anwar as Dr Mahathir’s golden boy, seeing as the so-called “dictator” allowed Anwar to rise in ranks so quickly.

In 1993, Anwar ran against Tun Ghafar Baba for UMNO Deputy President (which would usually qualify him to be Deputy Prime Minister). Ghafar was Anwar’s senior by 20 years and considered to be an UMNO veteran. Anwar surprisingly won and Dr Mahathir seemed to have no qualms about letting Anwar take Ghafar’s place.

During his stint as Finance Minister and then DPM at the same time, Anwar became a household name, both in Malaysia and across the world.

Anwar was featured on the cover of TIME magazine during his golden years. (Credit: Cili Sos)

1998 – Anwar gets sacked and accused of sodomy.

In the run-up to the UMNO general assembly in June (1998), he spoke of “weaknesses in internal policies” and warned that “we may face the Indonesian situation where the people demanded changes. We have to make changes before it is too late.

CNN on Anwar Ibrahim via Cili Sos

Although it seemed like Anwar was doing very well for himself, everything changed, including Anwar and Dr M’s relationship, when Malaysia was struck by the Asian Financial Crisis of 97/98.

Anwar, who was still Finance Minister at the time disagreed with Dr Mahathir on how to tackle the financial crisis. Anwar felt that controlling and cutting the country’s spending was the right thing to do, while Dr Mahathir believed that continuously spending more would stimulate the economy and get it running.

Dr Mahathir formed an economic council to address the crisis without the Finance Minister, while a strong supporter of Anwar, Zahid Hamidi (yes, the man now known as Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. How times have changed) alleged Dr Mahathir of cronyism.

After months of feuding, Anwar was finally fired as DPM and from UMNO.

Anwar, refusing to back down, started his Reformasi movement and protested being fired from his position and against the government as well. He and his thousands of supporters started calling for Dr Mahathir to resign as Prime Minister, but in the end, Anwar was arrested.

During the time of his arrest, Anwar was photographed with a black eye apparently from a tussle with the chief of police. Keadilan’s party flag of a blue eye represented this incident.

1999 – Anwar gets charged with corruption and sodomy and is sentenced to 9 years in jail. 

While in jail, Anwar continued to build on the momentum from his Reformasi movement to form KEADILAN (later known as PKR, Parti Keadilan Rakyat).

During this time, Dr Mahathir manages to steady the economy by pegging the ringgit to the US dollar.

Anwar was able to bring humongous crowds of supporters who believed in his Reformasi movement. (Credit: Cili Sos)

2003 – Mahathir resigns after being Prime Minister for 22 years.

For the next 10 years or so the two don’t interact with each other or cross any paths.

Dr Mahathir hands the reins over to his other protege, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, a.k.a Pak Lah, and then later Datuk Seri Najib Razak takes over as Prime Minister.

I find it difficult to forgive Anwar for demonising me in the eyes of the whole world. Anwar should have been the Prime Minister of Malaysia today. But if he is not, it is because of his own actions. He left me no choice but to remove him and I did what I thought was best for the country. I may have made many mistakes, but removing Anwar was not one of them.

Dr Mahathir in 2011, as quoted by Asiaone via Cili Sos

2016 – Dr Mahathir and Anwar join forces against Najib

After about 20 years of feuding the duo work together to take down Najib. (Credit: The Straits Times)

Dr Mahathir joins the opposition coalition to form Pakatan Harapan, with Dr Mahathir as their prime ministerial candidate and Anwar’s wife, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail as Deputy Prime Minister.

This was reportedly at the consent of all major members, including Anwar himself, but he was said to be the Prime Minister in-waiting.

The setup proved to be a success as Pakatan Harapan won the 2018 General Elections, toppling Barisan National’s 60-year stint as government.

Dr Mahathir was made Prime Minister with Dr Wan Azizah at his side. Anwar (who was still jailed at the time) was released, but not given any position in the government.

2020 – Mahathir resigns as Prime Minister

Dr Mahathir met with the Agong himself to resign from his position as Prime Minister. (Credit: Istana Negara)

Anwar’s supporters kept pressuring Dr Mahathir to step down as Prime Minister and finally give way to Anwar. Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir’s supporters opposed the move and finally broke off from PH to and would later form Perikatan Nasional with several other Barisan Nasional members.

Dr Mahathir, in protest of the political turmoil, decided to resign from his post as Prime Minister.

Following this, both Anwar and Dr Mahathir separately claimed to have the majority vote of members of parliament, both contradicting each other to say they are the prime ministerial candidate.

In order to rectify the situation, the Sultan decided to meet all MPs, one at a time, to hear their vote. This move ended with Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin being appointed as Prime Minister by the Sultan.

As Pakatan Harapan struggles to win back their position as government, Anwar and Mahathir continue to collide over the prime minister post.

In the latest update of the two, PKR has rejected Dr Mahathir’s third attempt at leading the country again and are instead maintaining their stance in nominating Anwar as their Prime Minister candidate.

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