Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad rejoined the ruling party yesterday, one year after leaving in a huff over the way his successor was running the government.
Mahathir’s change of heart came a day after his favored candidate, Najib Razak, took over as the new prime minister. Najib was previously chosen the head of the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party.
“I believe his return will be an encouragement to UMNO and will help us to rebuild the party,” Najib told reporters after welcoming Mahathir back into the party at the prime minister’s office.
Mahathir said he was happy to return and urged those who had left along with him to follow suit.
“The image of UMNO has suffered somewhat in the last few years. The first thing to be done is to clean up the image of UMNO,” he said.
Mahathir resigned as prime minister in 2003 after 22 years in power, hand-picking outgoing prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as his successor. But within a year, Mahathir turned against Abdullah after he overturned many of Mahathir’s pet projects.
The former leader openly campaigned for Abdullah’s ouster, accusing him of inefficiency, corruption and nepotism for allegedly promoting his son-in-law and son.
Mahathir resigned from the party in May last year, vowing to return only after Abdullah was ousted.
Their public spat severely destabilized the party, the main component of the ruling National Front coalition.
As a result of the party’s disunity and growing public anger against the government, the Front suffered heavily in general elections last year.
The Front failed to get a two-thirds majority, conceding 82 seats to the opposition in the 222-member parliament and losing an unprecedented five states. It was the Front’s worst result in 51 years in power.
On Friday, hours after taking office, Najib announced he was freeing 13 people held under a law that allows indefinite detention without trial. He also lifted a ban on two opposition newspapers.
However, some 30 others remain detained under the Internal Security Act, and Najib refused to say if they would also be released.
Najib’s first test of popularity will be on Wednesday during three special elections to fill one seat in the federal Parliament and two seats in parliaments of two states.
Najib said Mahathir would join the campaigning for the by-elections.
He refused to say if he would give Mahathir a post in the new Cabinet that he is expected to announce next week.