Anwar Ibrahim named Malaysia’s 10th prime minister

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SINGAPORE – The wait is over. And it is a return.

Almost a week after Malaysia’s general election resulted in a hung parliament, longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim appears to has garnered enough cross-party support to form the Southeast Asian country’s next government, preventing 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 saw the downfall of political titan Mahathir Mohamad, surprise gains by the far-right Islamic Party and endless infighting among supposed allies, fueled in large part by the impeachment of the disgraced former prime minister. Najib Razak on charges including money laundering and abuse of power.

After consultations with state-level rulers earlier in the day, Malaysia’s king said Thursday afternoon that he had approved Anwar’s appointment as the country’s 10th prime minister, and Anwar was sworn in hours later. In Malaysia, a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy, the king officially 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 spanned generations.

Anwar founded the country’s Reformazi political movement, which has been rallying since the 1990s for social justice and equality. He is also well known as a supporter of Muslim democracy, and previously admired Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was once considered 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 faiths are also widely practiced.

This Malaysian politician was imprisoned and convicted. He is now on the brink of power.

A former deputy prime minister under Mahathir, who was later seen as his bitter rival before they reconciled, Anwar struggled for decades to reach the country’s highest political office. Along the way, he earned 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 a few dozen seats short of the 112 it needed to form a majority. He ran against Perikatan Nasional (PN), a right-wing coalition that won 73 seats, to convince voters – as well as the country’s monarch, Sultan Abdullah of Pahang – that he has the mandate to form the next government.

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

While Anwar may have emerged triumphant, he now faces a major challenge in uniting the country’s divided electorate, analysts say.

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

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

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

Council of Churches of Malaysia convicted Muhyiddin and Anwar’s remarks criticized his rival’s comments as desperate. “I urge Muhyiddin to be a mature leader and not use racial propaganda to divide Malaysia’s plural reality,” he tweeted.

After the announcement of Anwar’s appointment, Muhyiddin held a press conference in which he called on his rival to prove that he had the numbers to rule. He claimed that his coalition has the support of 115 MPs, which would constitute a majority.

Regardless of whether they supported him, the appointment of a new prime minister allows Malaysians to put a needle in two years of political turmoil that has included the resignation of two prime ministers, allegations of a power grab and snap elections held amid the country’s tropical monsoon season. After the polls closed and it became clear that no single bloc could manage a majority on its own, confusion spread over who would lead the country. The king summoned party leaders to the palace for hours of closed-door discussions, taking his decision day by day.

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

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

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

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Analysis: Most people don’t know enough about Malaysia and its government. Here’s what you need to understand.

Among the election’s biggest surprises 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, which ran as part of Muhyiddin’s PN, favors eventual Islamic rule in Malaysia and has emerged as a powerful broker in recent years, forming partnerships with other parties that support pro-Malay-Muslim politics.

While Anwar’s coalition is in power, PAS will be the single largest party in the lower house of parliament.

Before Anwar was sworn in on Thursday night, PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang released a statement thanking voters for their support. “The 71-year struggle of the party in Malaysia is increasingly being accepted by the people,” he said.

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

While Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia have long advertised themselves as moderate Islamic nations, this may now be changing, Chin said. PAS has made its strongest gains in rural areas, he noted, and there is early evidence that it has gained support from new voters, including young Malaysians. 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 knew PAS had a lot of support in the Malaysian heartland… But I still didn’t know they could expand so quickly,” said Chin. “No one did.”

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



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