SINGAPORE: Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad showed up in court for a case concerning de facto Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leader Anwar Ibrahim on Monday (Sep 5), meeting his former political nemesis for the first time in 18 years.
Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Mr Anwar's wife and PKR president, posted a picture of the two men shaking hands on Facebook. She wrote that it was the first meeting between the two after "18 years and three days ... since Sep 3, 1998".
Mr Anwar is Dr Mahathir's former deputy. Currently serving a five-year sentence for sodomy, he was in court to file an interim injunction to stop Malaysia's National Security Council (NSC) Act 2016 from being enforced.
The act is said to give extensive powers to Prime Minister Najib Razak - who chairs the national security council - to designate any security areas and direct armed forces to conduct arrest, search and seizure without warrants.
Mr Anwar was sacked in 1998 by Dr Mahathir over political differences, an episode that continues to reverberate. Charged with sodomy and corruption, he spent six years in jail.
But he emerged to lead the previously ineffectual political opposition to historically strong electoral showings until he was jailed again in 2015 by current Prime Minister Najib's government.
Dr Mahathir played down Monday's meeting, saying he was merely showing support for a legal challenge launched by Mr Anwar against a new security law.
'NOW I'VE SEEN EVERYTHING'
"I don't know about friends but I know I talked to him," Dr Mahathir said with a chuckle when reporters asked after the encounter whether the two were friendly again.
"I met him and had a long chat with him about what he was doing."
But the encounter quickly went viral in politics-obsessed Malaysia.
"Now I think I have seen everything," Eric Paulsen of activist group Lawyers for Liberty said in tweeting an image of the handshake.
It remains to be seen whether any real detente between the political heavyweights can be achieved - or can put a dent in Mr Najib.
The formidable opposition alliance that Mr Anwar forged has crumbled amid infighting, especially after his jailing.
Mr Najib, meanwhile, has tightened his grip and used the powerful ruling coalition's deep pockets and pervasive control to win recent by-elections. The next general election must be held by mid-2018.
However, leading independent pollster Ibrahim Suffian called the handshake "a big deal" and a sign that "Mahathir has come full circle".
"The fundamental problem for the opposition was that Mahathir and Anwar couldn't get along," he said.
"Their shaking hands means their interests have converged."
Mr Anwar has condemned both of his convictions - on charges of sodomising male aides - as false and politically motivated. Sodomy is illegal in the Muslim-majority country.
Mr Najib denies the corruption allegations against him, but the US Justice Department filed suit in July to seize more than US$1 billion in luxury assets which it says were purchased with money stolen from Malaysian state fund 1MDB.
Dr Mahathir is spearheading an effort to form a new political party of anti-Najib figures from the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
But his attacks on Mr Najib have garnered mixed reviews, with many accusing him of hypocrisy for tolerating corruption and repressing dissent during his own premiership.