Can Malaysia's unlikely political double act score election triumph?

Can Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim, right,successfully join forces to topple Najib Razak, center?

(CNN)Two former foes are joining forces to oust Malaysia's sitting prime minister, although whether their unlikely alliance can topple the incumbent in next week's general election remains to be seen.

The political odd couple, former prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, 92, and his one time deputy Anwar Ibrahim, have both engineered, and endured, decades of political machinations and backstabbing -- mostly targeting each following Anwar's dismissal from Mahathir's cabinet in 1998.
But despite years of rivalry the two long-time operatives are coming together again in an attempt to wrest control from Prime Minister Najib Razak.
    Should he win, the elder statesman has pledged that he will step aside for Anwar, whom he once jailed on sodomy and corruption charges that critics said were politically motivated.
    "Mahathir has a short time horizon, he's saying that he'll only be Prime Minister for two years," says Meredith Weiss, professor of Political Science at the University at Albany. But despite this, "(he's) definitely sincere in wanting to oust Najib by any means possible."
    With less than one week to go to the election, the opposition party led by Mahathir remains the underdog, analysts say, despite momentum moving toward the newly formed alliance.
    Local media reports that polls indicate Mahathir and Anwar's Pakatan Harapan coalition has steadily gained support, at the expense of Najib's ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
    However, in a fresh twist, the veteran politician is being investigated under a controversial anti-fake news law over a claim his plane was sabotaged, police said Wednesday.
    A supporter wears a badge with photographs of former Malaysian prime minister and opposition party Pakatan Harapan's prime ministerial candidate Mahathir Mohamad and jailed former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

    Mutual animus overcome

    As the former head of Barisan Nasional, Mahathir served 22 years as the country's leader before retiring in 2003. Now, 15 years after stepping down, Mahathir has signaled a determination to topple the party he once led -- and in his quest to do so, has joined forces with his arch-nemesis.
    All considered, it's quite a turnaround for the man known to millions simply as Dr M. But while Mahathir and Anwar have "hated each other politically" for two decades, their history will not be a hindrance on the campaign trial, says James Chin, Director of the Asia Institute Tasmania at the University of Tasmania.
    "The Malaysian public have a short memory. The see (the two politicians') rapprochement as something very good; this is part of Malaysian political culture," said Chin.
    The two working together to oust Najib, who is widely seen as a corrupt, divisive figure, will benefit both men, says Amrita Malhi, visiting fellow at Australia National University's Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs.
    "It is a mutually beneficial arrangement, and the benefits have overridden their animosity," said Malhi.
    Anwar Ibrahim.

    Strange bedfellows

    That 92-year-old Mahathir has switched political allegiances would likely have caused consternation among opposition party hardliners, who will remember him as much for his time as leader of the ruling party, as they will for his more recent criticism of Najib, says Bridget Welsh, Associate Professor at John Cabot University and a Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University.
    "(He's) divisive but he does have that legacy, experience. Most important he's served as a stabilizing factor, thanks to weightiness of his leadership," said Welsh.
    "He brings credentials of Malaysian leadership and he brings his legacy, which is full of baggage as well as potential."
    Analysts say that, alongside the political experience that the nonagenarian brings to the table, Mahathir could make the opposition competitive in key, conservative rural seats.
    According to Malhi, the opposition coalition can clearly command the popular vote overall, as it showed in 2013, but it has not been able to win the rural areas, which remain politically important because of the way Malaysia's electoral system is structured.
    "Having Mahathir on the team builds the opposition's capacity to speak to this audience," said Malhi.
    But observers point out that it's still a mountain to climb -- the Pakatan Harapan coalition will have to win at least 25 and perhaps as many as 30 of the 60 rural seats that traditionally make up Najib's base.
    Of a total of 222 seats up for grabs, 65% are considered vulnerable to changing hands, said Welsh.