Anwar’s appointment as prime minister on Thursday brought a temporary end to a chaotic election season that saw the fall of political titan Mahathir Mohamad, surprise gains by the far-right Islamic Party and endless infighting among supposed allies, largely fueled by former prime minister Najib Razak’s conviction on charges including money laundering and abuse of power. .
After conferring with state-level rulers earlier in the day, Malaysia’s king said on Thursday afternoon that he 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 formally appoints the head of government.
The appointment, contested by some opponents, marks a dramatic comeback for Anwar, 75, an international figure whose political rise, fall and comeback spans generations.
Anwar founded the country’s reformist political movement, which has been mobilizing for social justice and equality since the 1990s. He is also well known as a supporter of Muslim democracy and has previously expressed admiration for 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 widely practiced.
This Malaysian politician was imprisoned and condemned. Now he is on the brink of power.
Mahathir’s former deputy prime minister, 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 won the support and friendship of international leaders such as former US Vice President Al Gore. He has also served two lengthy prison terms for sodomy and corruption, sentences which Anwar and his supporters say were politically motivated.
Anwar’s multi-ethnic reformist coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH), or Alliance of Hope, won 82 seats in last week’s election. The Alliance was the largest single bloc, but still fell a few dozen seats short of the 112 needed to form a majority. She battled 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 she had the mandate to form the next government.
Anwar became possible after Barisan Nasional, the 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 to take the lead.
While Anwar may have appeared triumphant, he now faces a formidable challenge in uniting the country’s divided electorate, analysts say.
“Polarization [in Malaysia] remains strong,” said Bridget Welsh, a research associate at the University of Nottingham’s Malaysian Institute of Asian Studies. While Anwar has a strong image on the world stage, he has a “weak mandate” at home, she said.
Anwar opposes the race-based affirmative action policies that have been a hallmark of previous Barisan Nasional-led governments. Some analysts acknowledge that policies favoring Malay Muslims have created a broad middle class of 32.5 million. But critics blame the laws for stoking racial animosity, pushing young Malaysian Indian and Chinese minorities out of the country and spawning systemic corruption.
Before 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’s remarks and Anwar 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 wrote on Twitter.
After Anwar’s appointment was announced, Muhyiddin held a press conference where he called on his rival to prove he had the numbers to govern. He claimed that his coalition had the support of 115 MPs, which would constitute a majority.
Regardless of their support, the appointment of a new prime minister allows Malaysians to overcome two years of political turmoil that has included the resignation of two prime ministers, allegations of power-grabbing and snap elections held in the middle of a tropical climate. monsoon season of the country. After the election closed and it became clear that no single bloc could command a majority, there was confusion over who would lead the country. The king summoned party leaders to the palace for hours of closed-door debate, delaying his decision each day.
“We have been waiting for stability for a while until democracy is restored,” said Adrian Pereira, a labor rights activist from the western state of Selangor. Voters are still waiting to see what kind of coalition Anwar puts together and how power-sharing will work, “but for now it’s kind of a relief for everybody,” he said.
Rafizi Ramli, deputy leader of Anwar’s party, said on Thursday that the new prime minister would lead a “unity government”.
“We must all 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.
Analysis: Most people don’t know enough about Malaysia and its government. Here’s what you should understand.
One of the biggest surprises of the election was 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., advocates ultimate Islamic rule in Malaysia and has become a power broker in recent years, forming partnerships with other parties that support pro-Malay and pro-Muslim politics.
Although Anwar’s coalition will govern, PAS will be the single largest party in the lower house of parliament.
Before Anwar was sworn in on Thursday evening, PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang issued a statement to thank voters for their support. “People are increasingly accepting the party’s 71-year struggle in Malaysia,” he said.
James Chin, a University of Tasmania professor who studies Malaysian politics, said he was “delighted” by PAS’s electoral success, which he said reflected the wider rise of political Islam in Malaysia.
While Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia have long described themselves as moderate Islamic states, that may now change, Chin said. He noted that PAS had made its biggest gains in rural areas and there was early evidence that it had gained support from new voters, including young Malaysians. Liberal and non-Malay Muslim voters are now worried that a strengthened PAS could extend its influence to include the country’s education policy.
“I knew PAS had a lot of support in the Malaysian heartland… But I still didn’t know they could expand so fast,” Chin said. “Nobody did.”
Katerina Ang reported from Seoul and Emily Ding reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Hari Raj in Seoul contributed to this report.