Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Anwar Ibrahim, who's long been a central figure in Malaysian politics, has been nominated by the former ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition as its candidate for prime minister.
Anwar said the decision was made Tuesday by the coalition's presidential council, following the surprise resignation this week of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Anwar's People's Justice Party (PKR) also backed him for the post.
It's not yet known if Anwar has enough support from a majority of Malaysian lawmakers.
Anwar, 72, was expected to succeed Mahathir this year under an agreement between his PKR and Mahathir's Bersatu Party, whose Pakatan Harapan -- or Alliance of Hope coalition -- staged in an upset victory in 2018 over the long-dominant United Malays National Organization.
It was Mahathir's reluctance to give up power to his longtime rival that prompted him to resign Monday amid a failed bid to form a "backdoor" alliance without Anwar.
Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah said Mahathir will serve as interim leader until a successor officially takes power. The king has met with all 222 elected members of Malaysian Parliament this week in a bid to end the crisis.
The PKR holds 39 seats in Parliament and its Pakatan Harapan partners could add another 62, but that would still fall short of the 112 seats needed for a ruling majority.
Mahathir is pushing the idea of a "unity" government without party affiliations. In a televised address Wednesday, he apologized for the impact of his sudden resignation and urged lawmakers to put aside party differences.
"In my opinion, right or wrong, politics and political parties have to be cast aside for now," he said. "If I am permitted, I will try to establish an administration which does not favor any party. The only priority would be the interests of the country."
It is not yet certain whether Mahathir has enough support for a unity government, as UMNO and allies are reluctant about such a prospect after ruling Malaysia for six decades.