Anwar Ibrahim named Malaysia’s 10th prime minister

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

Nearly a week after Malaysia’s general election resulted in a hung parliament, longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has won enough support among disparate parties to form the Southeast Asian country’s next government, fending off the rise of conservative political forces.

The naming of Anwar as prime minister on Thursday ended a tumultuous election period in Malaysia that saw the downfall of political titan Mahathir Mohamad, thanks in large part to stunning victories by the far-right Islamic Party and endless infighting over alleged allies. Conviction of former Prime Minister Najib Razak on charges including money laundering and abuse of power.

“This is a unity government,” Anwar said at his first news conference as prime minister on Thursday evening. Alternating between Malay and English, he promised to eradicate the corruption that has bedeviled Malaysian politics in recent years and thanked supporters who have stood by him for decades.

“We will uphold the rights of all citizens,” he said. “We want all citizens to work with us.”

Earlier in the day, the Malaysian King announced that he had approved the appointment of the elder statesman as Malaysia’s 10th Prime Minister. In Malaysia, a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy, the king formally names the head of government.

moment Anwar, 75, marks a dramatic comeback, an internationally known figure whose political rise, fall and return has spanned generations. With a divided electorate, a global economic slowdown and intensifying geopolitical tensions in Southeast Asia between China and the United States, he now faces a difficult task leading the country of 32.5 million people.

Anwar founded the country’s reformist political movement, which has mobilized since the 1990s for social justice and equality. He is also a well-known supporter of Muslim democracy and said he admires Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was once seen as a moderate democrat. Islam is the state religion in Muslim-majority Malaysia, but other faiths are widely practiced.

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This Malaysian politician was jailed and condemned. He is now at the pinnacle of power.

A former deputy prime minister under Mahathir and then considered his bitter rival before they reconciled, Anwar struggled for decades to reach the country’s top political post. He served two lengthy prison terms for sodomy and corruption — charges Anwar says were politically motivated.

As he left his press conference, Anwar shouted a slogan that would rally throughout his political career. “Loven sambay menang!” He shouted before being mobbed by supporters. Fight till you win.

Anwar’s multiracial reform coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), or Alliance of Hope, won 82 seats after last week’s election. Although the coalition is the largest single bloc, it is several dozen seats shy of the 112 seats needed to form a majority. It ran against the right-wing coalition Berigatan National (PN), which won 73 seats, convincing voters – as well as the country’s monarch, Sultan Abdullah of Pahang – that it has the mandate to form the next government.

The new prime minister said his mandate was made possible by the support of two main groups, the Kapungan Party Sarawak, a regional coalition that won 23 seats, and Barisan Nasional, the conservative coalition that has ruled Malaysia for most of its post-independence history. Barisan Nasional, which said on Thursday it would not participate in a PN-led government, won 30 seats in the latest polls, putting it in a kingmaking position.

Although Anwar has proven successful, analysts say he has been tasked with earning the trust of a growing conservative Muslim community that views him as too liberal. He campaigned on promises to clean up the government and create an egalitarian society, but he could find himself cut off by the parties he allied with to form the government.

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Anwar opposes the ethnic-based affirmative action policies that have been the hallmark of past Barisan Nasional-led governments. Pro-Malay Muslim policies are credited by some analysts with creating a broad-based middle class in Malaysia. But critics accuse the laws of fueling ethnic hatred, driving young people from Malaysia’s Indian and Chinese minorities out of the country, and creating systemic corruption.

Ahead of the election, PN leader and former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin made anti-Semitic claims that Anwar’s coalition was working to “Christianize” Malaysia alongside Jews and Christians. Anwar criticized his rival’s comments as desperate, replying that Mukaidin was “trying to use racial propaganda to divide the pluralistic reality in Malaysia”.

Following the announcement of Anwar’s appointment, Muhyiddin held a press conference and questioned his opponent’s mandate to rule. Anwar said on Thursday evening that he would welcome the PN to work with his coalition, but it was not immediately clear if he planned to accept Muhyiddin’s invitation.

“Polarization [in Malaysia] is strong,” said Bridget Welsh, a research fellow at the University of Nottingham’s Asian Research Institute-Malaysia.

Regardless of whether they supported him or not, many Malaysians welcomed the new prime minister’s appointment, which allowed him to put an end to two years of political turmoil that included the resignations of two prime ministers, allegations of power grabs and snap elections. During the monsoon season of a tropical country.

After the polls were over, it became clear that no single constituency could secure a majority, and confusion spread over who would lead. The king summoned party leaders to the palace for closed-door deliberations, putting off his decision from day to day.

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“We are waiting for some stability and for democracy to be restored,” said Adrian Perera, a labor rights activist from the western state of Selangor. Voters are still curious to see how power will be shared, “but for now, it’s a kind of relief for everyone.”

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One of the biggest surprises of the election was a surge in support for the Malaysian Islamic Party, known as PAS, which more than doubled its seats in parliament from 18 to 49. The party contested as part of Muhyiddin’s PN, Ultimately advocates Islamic rule in Malaysia and has emerged as a power broker in recent years, forming partnerships with other parties that support pro-Malay-Muslim policies.

While Anwar’s coalition will form the government, Baz will be the single largest party in the lower house of parliament.

Before Anwar was sworn in on Thursday evening, BAS chief Abdul Hadi Awang issued a statement Thanks to the voters for their support. “71 years of struggle in Malaysia is being accepted by the people,” he said.

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

Although Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia have long described themselves as moderate Islamic countries, Chin said this could now change. He noted that PAS made its strongest gains in rural areas, and there was early evidence of gaining support from new voters, including young Malays. Liberal and non-Malay-Muslim voters now worry that a strengthened PAS is positioned to expand its influence, including over the country’s education policies.

“I know PAS has strong support in the heartland of Malaya. … But I still don’t know that they can expand so quickly,” Chin said. “No one does.”

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



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