The naming of Anwar as prime minister on Thursday brought a temporary end to a chaotic election season that has seen the fall of political titan Mahathir Mohamad, surprise gains by a far-right Islamist party and endless infighting among supposed allies, largely caused by the conviction of a former prime minister. disgraced minister Najib Razak on charges including money laundering and abuse of power.
After consulting with state-level governors earlier in the day, Malaysia’s king said on Thursday afternoon that he had approved the appointment of Anwar as the country’s 10th prime minister, and Anwar was sworn in within hours. In Malaysia, a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy, the king formally names the head of government.
The appointment, which was contested by some opponents, marks a dramatic return for Anwar, 75, an international figure whose political rise, fall and comeback has spanned generations.
Anwar founded the country’s Reformasi political movement, which has rallied since the 1990s for social justice and equality. He is also 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 with the United States, but other religions are widely practiced.
This Malaysian politician was imprisoned and denied. It 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 top political office. Along the way, he gained 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 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 after last week’s election. The alliance was the largest single bloc, but was still several dozen seats shy of the 112 it needed to form a majority. She ran against Perikatan Nasional (PN), a right-wing coalition that won 73 seats, to persuade voters – as well as the country’s monarch, Sultan Abdullah of Pahang – that she has a mandate to form the next government.
Anwar’s ascension was made possible after Barisan Nasional, a 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 seats in the latest polls, putting it in a king-making position.
While Anwar may have been victorious, he now faces the steep challenge of uniting the country’s divided electorate, analysts say.
“Politicization [in Malaysia] is still going strong,” said Bridget Welsh, research associate at the University of Nottingham’s Asia-Malaysia Research Institute. While Anwar has a strong image on the world stage, he has a “weak mandate” at home, he said.
Anwar opposes the racially based affirmative action policies that characterized past Barisan of the Nations-led governments. The policies, which favor Malay Muslims, are credited by some analysts with creating a broad-based middle class in the country of 32.5 million. But critics blame the laws for fueling racial animosity, driving young people from Malaysia’s Indian and Chinese minorities out of the country, and causing systemic corruption.
In the run-up to the election, PN leader and former premier Muhyiddin Yassin made the antisemitic claim that Anwar’s coalition was working with Jews and Christians to “Christianize” Malaysia.
Malaysian Council of Churches condemned Muhyiddin and Anwar’s comments criticized his opponent’s comments as hopeless. “I urge Muhyiddin to be a mature leader and not use racist propaganda to divide the multiple realities in Malaysia,” he said on Twitter.
Following the announcement of Anwar’s appointment, Muhyiddin held a news conference where he called on his opponent to prove that he had the necessary numbers to rule. He claimed that his coalition had the support of 115 members of parliament, which would constitute a majority.
Regardless of whether they supported him, the appointment of a new prime minister allows Malaysians to put an end to two years of political turmoil that included the resignation of two prime ministers, allegations of a power grab and a snap election held in the middle of the tropics. the country’s monsoon season. After polls closed and it became clear that no single bloc could get a mere majority, confusion spread over who would lead the country. The king called the leaders of the parties to the palace for hours of closed door negotiations, pushing back his decision day by day.
“We have been waiting for some stability, for democracy to be restored, for a long time,” said Adrian Pereira, a labor rights activist from the western state of Selangor. Voters are still eager to see what coalition Anwar has built and how power-sharing will work, “but for now, it’s kind of a relief for everyone,” he said.
Rafizi Ramli, deputy head of Anwar’s party, said on Thursday that the new prime minister will lead a “unity government.”
“We all need to move forward and learn to work together to rebuild Malaysia,” he added statement that also encouraged Malaysians to ease political tensions by avoiding “provocative” messages or gatherings.
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Among the biggest surprises of the election was the large increase 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 PN Muhyiddin, advocates eventual 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 is in control, 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 said post a statement thanks to voters for their support. “The party’s 71 years of struggle in Malaysia is increasingly being accepted by the people,” he said.
James Chin, a professor at the University of Tasmania who studies Malaysian politics, said he was “shocked” by PAS’s electoral success, which he sees as reflecting the wider rise of political Islam in Malaysia.
While neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia have long touted themselves as moderate Islamic nations, this may now be changing, Chin said. PAS made its strongest gains in rural areas, he noted, and there is early evidence that they have received the support of new voters, including young Malays. Liberal and non-Malay-Muslim voters now worry that a stronger PAS is in a position to expand its influence, including over the country’s educational policies.
“I knew PAS had heavy support in the Malay heartland … But I didn’t know they could expand so quickly,” Chin said. “No one did.”
Katerina Ang reported from Seoul and Emily Ding reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Hari Raj in Seoul contributed to this report.