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Anwar Ibrahim is in a familiar place, close to leading Malaysia

WHEN ANWAR IBRAHIM declared in late September he had a “strong, formidable majority” of MPs ready to unseat the government of Muhyiddin Yassin, some in Malaysia wondered whether Mr Anwar’s moment had come at last. Others groaned. Mr Muhyiddin’s government, which itself came to power in a parliamentary coup, is just seven months old. How would more upheaval help contain the pandemic, revive the battered economy, or improve the country’s dismal politics of patronage and race? Mr Anwar had once cared about policy. This seemed a naked power-grab.

Mr Anwar hates being called Asia’s eternal prime minister-in-waiting. In the late 1990s, when financial crisis laid bare the cronyism over which Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister at the time, presided, it looked like Mr Anwar’s moment. The young high-flyer, already deputy prime minister, had long called for an end to the cosy ties between business and politics under the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). In 1997 Time put him on the cover: “Anwar and the Future of Asia”. Yet within a year, Dr Mahathir had fired his uppity protégé and thrown him in jail on flimsy charges of abuse of office and sodomy.

Fast forward to 2018, when Dr Mahathir came out of retirement at the head of a new party, Bersatu, with the aim of defeating UMNO and his successor-...

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