Malaysia | Reformist Anwar Ibrahim becomes prime minister

(KUALA LUMPUR) — Reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim has been appointed as Malaysia’s prime minister, ending long-standing uncertainty after Saturday’s parliamentary elections failed to yield a majority for either party.

Mr Anwar, who until now has been the main opposition leader, has been appointed as the “tenth Prime Minister of Malaysia,” the royal palace said in a press release. He was sworn in before the king on Thursday afternoon, wearing traditional Malay dress.

“I will not tolerate corruption or abuse… No one will be marginalized under my government,” Anwar told a news conference.

It is a national unity government. Everyone is welcome, provided you accept the basic rules of good governance, no corruption, and Malaysia for all Malaysians,” Mr. Anwar added, indicating that he would focus on the economy.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Mr. Anwar in a statement, saying the US intends to deepen its “comprehensive partnership” with Malaysia “based on the democratic principles we share, respect for human rights and the rule of law”.

Thus, Anwar Ibrahim, at the age of seventy-five, realized his dream of becoming prime minister, which he had cherished for a quarter of a century and which crowned a turbulent political career, during which he spent several periods in prison.

“The biggest challenge he faces is pulling Malaysia out of the economic crisis after the pandemic,” James Chen, professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania, told AFP.

Pakatan Harapan (Coalition of Hope), Mr. Anwar’s multi-ethnic reformist coalition, achieved the best result in Saturday’s legislative elections with 82 seats. But it is still far from an absolute majority, in a parliament with 222 seats.

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On Wednesday, the King of Malaysia, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, summoned Sayyid Anwar and former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to the palace. The Praikatan National (National Alliance) party came second in the election, with 73 seats. According to Sayyid Muhyiddin, the governor asked the two men to form a “unity government”.

Perikatan Nasional has the support of the Malaysian Islamic Party, which advocates strict application of Islamic law.

Anwar Ibrahim started negotiations on Monday with the Barisan National formation in power so far. The formation, led by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has been engulfed in a vast corruption case, came far behind with 30 seats, the worst electoral result since the country gained independence in 1957.

The King of Malaysia has the discretion to appoint a Prime Minister who is believed to have the support of a majority of MPs.

Arm wrestling with Mahathir

During his tumultuous career, the new prime minister came close to coming to power twice, each time under former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

First in the late 1990s as Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister. But the two men disagreed over how to handle the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis and Anwar was sacked.

Then he was sentenced to six years in prison for corruption, then an additional nine years in prison for sodomy, which is a crime in this Islamic country. But it was above all his impatience to take Mahathir’s place, according to some observers, that would earn him the wrath of his former protector.

His first sodomy conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court, and Mr. Anwar was re-sentenced to five years in prison in 2015, but was granted a royal pardon after three years behind bars.

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He returned to work in 2018, on the occasion of a new alliance with Mahathir, 93, when his former enemy promised to hand over his position to him at a later date. But the prime minister did not keep his word and the alliance between the two men collapsed.

Waltz to the Prime Ministers

For four years, the country has been rocked by political turmoil and government failures, resulting in three prime ministers succeeding each other in four years.

After more than sixty years in command, Umno was severely punished at the polls and ousted from power in 2018, the first rotation in the country’s history.

Then-Prime Minister Najib Razak, implicated in the embezzlement of several billion dollars from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, is serving a 12-year prison sentence.

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