Webinar on “The Unrealized Mahathir-Anwar Transitions: Social Divisions and Political Consequences”

In this webinar, Prof Khoo Boo Teik talked about the two failed power transitions between Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim, which had played out prominently over the last 40 years of Malaysian politics.


Friday, 25 June 2021 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a webinar on “The Unrealized Mahathir-Anwar Transitions: Social Divisions and Political Consequences”, delivered by Professor Emeritus Khoo Boo Teik. Prof Khoo is Visiting Senior Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. He is also based at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Tokyo and the Institute of Developing Economies in Japan.

Prof Khoo Boo Teik
Prof Khoo Boo Teik argued that the open conflict between Mahathir and Anwar during 1998 was not only due to personality differences. Dr Norshahril Saat moderated the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Prof Khoo began the webinar with a brief discussion on Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister. In contrast to previous Prime Ministers, Mahathir came from a commoner’s background and his rise to power was a microcosm of the economic transition which the Malays experienced post-independence. Like Mahathir, Anwar Ibrahim rose up the hierarchy within United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) despite not coming from a royal lineage. By the early 1990s Anwar rose to the post of deputy Prime Minister and widely assumed to be Mahathir’s successor. However, both individuals rose to power through differing trajectories with each having their own support base and interest group. Prof Khoo argued that the open conflict between Mahathir and Anwar during 1998 was rooted not merely in personality differences, but also conflicting interests on how to allocate government expenditure during the Asian Financial Crisis. Anwar was sacked by Mahathir and was subsequently jailed.

Prior to the 2018 General Election (GE214), the Mahathir and Anwar reconciliation was made possible after the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) administration was facing a credibility deficit. The infamous 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, which implicated then Prime Minister Najib Razak, resulted in a huge swing in support for the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition which was led by Anwar. Under the terms of agreement, Mahathir was to serve as the Prime Minister for a period before passing the baton to Anwar should PH becomes elected. Prof Khoo concluded his webinar by commenting that with the defeat of BN, the Mahathir-Anwar tension, which was never resolved, began to resurface and eventually cumulated in the 2020 Sheraton Move. As PH collapsed, the promised transition between Mahathir and Anwar once again dissipated.

During the question-and-answer session, topics raised include Anwar’s receptiveness towards the Washington Consensus, the future direction of Malaysia should Anwar succeeds Muhyiddin as the Prime Minister, the spiritual side of Anwar, among other issues.

The webinar attracted a large turnout of 120 participants from Singapore and abroad. Dr Norshahril Saat, Senior Fellow at ISEAS and Coordinator at the Regional Social and Cultural Studies Programme, moderated the webinar. 

The webinar was very well-attended with 120 participants. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)