New Malaysian PM Anwar vows to heal divided nation, economy

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Longtime reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim He was sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister on Thursday and vowed to heal the ethnically divided nation, fight corruption and revive an economy struggling with the rising cost of living.

After Saturday’s divisive general election, he emerged as a victory for political reformers who have been locked in a days-long battle with Malay nationalists. Anwar was sworn in at a simple ceremony at the National Palace that was broadcast on national television.

Malaysia’s king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, appointed Anwar as the country’s 10th president, saying he was satisfied with Anwar as the candidate who could garner majority support.

In his first news conference, Anwar said he would form a unity government with his faith coalition winning 82 seats, the National Front 30 seats and 23 seats from the eastern state of Sarawak. That would give him a majority of 135 seats, with other smaller constituencies expected to join.

“There is no question about my legitimacy,” Anwar said after his rival, former prime minister Mukaiddin Yassin, denied he had majority support. Anwar said his government would propose a vote of confidence when parliament reconvenes on December 19.

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An unexpected surge of ethnic Malay support propelled Muhyiddin’s right-wing National Alliance to win 73 seats, while its ally, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, emerged as the largest single party with 49 seats.

The impasse was resolved after the National Front, led by the United Malay National Organization, agreed to support a unity government under Anwar. Such an alliance was once unthinkable in Malaysian politics, long dominated by bipartisan rivalry.

“His Royal Highness reminds all parties that winners do not win all and losers do not lose all,” the palace statement said. Sultan Abdullah urged all opposition parties to compromise to end Malaysia’s political turmoil, which has led to three prime ministers since the 2018 election, and ensure a stable government.

The stock market and the Malaysian currency rose following the news of Anwar’s appointment.

Police had beefed up security across the country as social media posts warned of ethnic tensions if Anwar’s multiracial coalition wins. Anwar’s party has urged supporters to avoid celebratory gatherings to avoid the risk of provocation.

Anwar also said that he hoped his victory would give new hope to Malaysians longing for an egalitarian nation, and assured that the majority of Malay Muslims had nothing to fear. He said his priority would be to strengthen the economy in the face of an expected recession next year and fight rising inflation.

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Many rural Malays fear losing their privileges with more pluralism under Anwar. Many, fed up with corruption and infighting in the long-ruling UMNO, chose Muhyiddin’s alliance in Saturday’s vote.

“Malaysia is more than six decades old. Every Malaysian, regardless of race, creed or region, especially Sabah and Sarawak, should not feel neglected in any way. No one should be marginalized in my administration,” he said. Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo are among the two poorest states in the country.

Anwar declared Monday a public holiday to mark the victory of his constituency.

Anwar’s high-profile promotion would halt his roller-coaster political journey and ease fears of greater Islamization. But he faces an uphill task in reining in deepening racial divisions and reviving the economy after Saturday’s vote. Malays make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, including large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

“Anwar is a globalist, which will reassure international investors. He is seen as a bridge-builder across communities, which will test his leadership moving forward but at the same time offer a reassuring hand to the challenges facing Malaysia,” said Bridget Welsh, an expert on Southeast Asia politics at the University of Nottingham, Malaysia.

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Secretary of State Anthony Blinken congratulated Anwar, saying the US looks forward to deepening its friendship with Malaysia.

Anwar, now 75, was shot and jailed in the 1990s as massive street protests and a reform movement became a major political force. Thursday marked his reformist camp’s second victory — the first in the historic 2018 referendum that led to Umno’s ouster and the first regime change. Since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.

Anwar was then in jail on sex charges he said were politically motivated. He was pardoned and was to take over from Mahathir Mohamad. But the government fell after Muhyiddin quit and joined hands with Umno to form a new government. Muhyiddin’s government was beset by internal rivalries and he resigned after 17 months. Umno leader Ismail Sabri Yacob was chosen by the king as prime minister.

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