KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister Thursday, a victory for political reformers fighting Malay nationalists after a divided general election produced a hung parliament. Days of struggle.
Anwar was sworn in in a simple ceremony at the National Palace on Thursday night, broadcast live on state television.
Malaysia’s King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah appointed Anwar, 75, as the country’s 10th leader, after he said he was satisfied that Anwar was the candidate likely to command a majority.
Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan led Saturday’s election with 82 seats, short of the 112 needed for a majority. The unexpected surge in ethnic Malay support propelled former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s right-leaning National Alliance to 73 seats, with its ally Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party the largest single party with 49 seats.
The impasse was resolved after the long-standing ruling bloc led by the United Malays National Organization agreed to support a unity government under Anwar. Such an alignment, once unthinkable in Malaysian politics, has long been dominated by rivalry between the two parties. Other influential groups on the island of Borneo said they would follow the king’s decision.
“His Royal Highness reminds all parties that nothing is won by the winner and all is lost by the loser,” a palace statement read. The monarch urged Anwar and his new government to remain humble and said all opposition parties should reconcile to ensure government stability and end Malaysia’s political turmoil, which has resulted in three prime ministers since the 2018 polls.
The statement did not detail the government that would be formed.
Muhyiddin, 75, refuses to admit defeat. At a news conference, Muhyiddin challenged Anwar to prove he had the majority support of lawmakers to deflect questions about his leadership.
Police have stepped up security across the country amid social media posts warning of racial problems if Anwar’s multi-ethnic bloc wins. Anwar’s party has urged supporters not to hold celebratory rallies or make sensitive statements to avoid the risk of provocation.
Anwar’s ascent to the top caps off his roller-coaster political journey and will assuage fears of greater Islamization. But he faces the daunting task of bridging racial divides that deepened after Saturday’s polls and reviving an economy struggling with rising inflation and a currency that has hit rock bottom. Malays make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, including large Chinese and Indian minorities.
“He will have to make compromises with other players in the government, which means the reform process will be more inclusive,” said Bridget Welsh, an expert on Southeast Asian politics. “Anwar is a globalist, which will reassure international investors. He is viewed as a bridge-builder across communities, which will test his leadership, but also provide a reassuring hand for the challenges Malaysia will face .”
Anwar was a former deputy prime minister whose dismissal and imprisonment in the 1990s led to massive street protests and the reform movement became a major political force. Thursday marked the second victory for his reformist bloc – the first in a historic 2018 poll that led to the first regime change since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.
Anwar was in prison at the time for sodomy, which he said was politically motivated. He was pardoned and will succeed Mahathir Mohamad. But the government collapsed after Muhyiddin defected and joined forces with Umno to form a new government. Muhyiddin’s government was beset by internal rivalry and he resigned after 17 months. Umno leader Ismail Sabri Yaakob was then elected prime minister by the king.
Many rural Malays worry that under Anwar they may lose the privilege of being more diverse. Tired of Umno’s corruption and infighting, many chose Muhyiddin’s side in Saturday’s vote.
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