Anwar Ibrahim named Malaysia’s 10th prime minister


SINGAPORE — The wait is over. And it’s a comeback.

Almost a week after Malaysia’s general election resulted in a hung parliament, it appears opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim He won enough support across disparate parties to form the Southeast Asian country’s next government, staving off the rise of more conservative political forces, for now.

Anwar’s appointment as prime minister on Thursday brought a temporary end to a chaotic election season that has seen the fall of political titan Mahathir Mohamad, surprise gains by a far-right Islamic party and endless infighting between supposed allies , caused in large part by the conviction of disgraced former prime minister Najib Razak on charges including money laundering and abuse of power.

After consulting with state-level rulers earlier in the day, Malaysia’s king said late Thursday that he had approved Anwar’s appointment as the country’s 10th prime minister, and Anwar was sworn in several hours later. In Malaysia, a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy, the king formally appoints the head of government.

The appointment, which was contested by some opponents, marks a dramatic comeback for Anwar, 75, an international figure whose political rise, fall and comeback have spanned generations.

Anwar founded the country’s Reformasi political movement, which since the 1990s has campaigned for social justice and equality. He is also known as a supporter of Muslim democracy and has previously professed admiration for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was once seen as a moderate democrat. Islam is the state religion in Muslim-majority Malaysia, which has significant economic and security ties to the United States, but other religions are widely practiced.

This Malaysian politician was jailed and reported. Now he is at the pinnacle of power.

Former deputy prime minister under Mahathir, who was later regarded as his bitter rival before they reconciled, Anwar struggled for decades to reach the country’s highest political office. Along the way, he won the support and friendship of international leaders such as former US Vice President Al Gore. He also served two lengthy prison terms for sodomy and corruption, convictions that Anwar and his supporters say were politically motivated.

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Anwar’s multi-ethnic reform coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), or Alliance of Hope, won 82 seats after last week’s election. The alliance was the largest single bloc, but was still several dozen seats shy of the 112 it needed to form a majority. He competed against Perikatan Nasional (PN), a right-wing coalition that won 73 seats, to persuade voters as well as the country’s monarch, Sultan Abdullah of Pahang, who is mandated to form the next government.

Anwar’s accession was made possible after Barisan Nasional, a conservative coalition that has ruled Malaysia for most of its post-independence history, said it would not participate in a PN-led government. Barisan Nasional won 30 seats in the latest polls, putting it in a dominant position.

While Anwar may have emerged victorious, he now faces the challenge of uniting the country’s divided electorate, analysts say.

“Polarization [in Malaysia] remains strong,” said Bridget Welsh, research associate at the University of Nottingham’s Malaysian Asia Research Institute. While Anwar has a strong image on the world stage, he has a “weak mandate” in home, he said.

Anwar opposes the race-based affirmative action policies that were a hallmark of past Barisan Nasional-led governments. The policies, which favor Malay Muslims, are credited by some analysts with creating a broad-based middle class in the country of 32.5 million. But critics blame the laws for stoking racial animosity, driving young people from Malaysia’s Indian and Chinese minorities out of the country and breeding systemic corruption.

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In the run-up to the election, PN leader and former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin made anti-Semitic claims that Anwar’s coalition was working with Jews and Christians to “Christianize” Malaysia.

Malaysian Council of Churches condemned Muhyiddin and Anwar’s statements criticized their rival’s comments as desperate. “I urge Muhyiddin to be a mature leader and not use racial propaganda to divide the plural reality in Malaysia,” he said on Twitter.

After the announcement of Anwar’s appointment, Muhyiddin held a press conference where he asked his rival to prove that he had the numbers to govern. He stated that his coalition had the support of 115 MPs, which would constitute the majority.

Regardless of whether they supported him, the appointment of a new prime minister allows Malaysians to put an end to two years of political turmoil that included the resignation of two prime ministers, allegations of power-grabbing and a snap election held in the middle of the tropical monsoon season of the country. After the polls closed and it became clear that no single bloc could command a majority, confusion spread over who would lead the country. The king summoned party leaders to the palace for hours of closed-door discussions, pushing back his decision day by day.

“We have long been waiting for some stability, for democracy to be restored,” said Adrian Pereira, a labor rights activist from the western state of Selangor. Voters are still anxious to see what coalition Anwar has built and how power-sharing will work, “but for now, it’s kind of a relief for everyone,” he said.

Rafizi Ramli, deputy head of Anwar’s party, said on Thursday that the new prime minister will lead a “unity government”.

“We must all move forward and learn to work together to rebuild Malaysia,” he added a statement who also urged Malaysians to ease political tensions by avoiding “provocative” messages or gatherings.

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Analysis: Most people don’t know enough about Malaysia and its government. This is what you should understand.

Among the election’s biggest surprises is the surge in support for the Islamic Party of Malaysia, known as PAS, which more than doubled its seats in parliament from 18 to 49. The party, which presented itself as apart from Muhyiddin’s PN., advocates for eventual Islamic rule in Malaysia and has become a power broker in recent years, forming partnerships with other parties that support pro-Malay-Muslim policies.

While Anwar’s coalition will govern, PAS will be the largest party in the lower house of Parliament.

Before Anwar was sworn in on Thursday evening, PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang published a statement thanking voters for their support. The party’s “71 years of struggle in Malaysia are increasingly being accepted by the people,” he said.

James Chin, a University of Tasmania professor who studies Malaysian politics, said he was “gutted” by PAS’s electoral success, which he sees as a reflection of a wider rise in political Islam in Malaysia.

While Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia have long presented themselves as moderate Islamic nations, that may be changing, Chin said. He noted that PAS made its strongest gains in rural areas, and there is early evidence that it received support from new voters, including young Malays. Liberal and non-Muslim Malay voters now worry that a strengthened PAS is positioned to expand its influence, including over the country’s education policies.

“I knew that PAS had a lot of support in the Malay heartland… But I still didn’t know that they could expand so quickly,” Chin said. “No one did.”

Katerina Ang reported from Seoul and Emily Ding reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Hari Raj in Seoul contributed to this report.


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