Anwar Ibrahim was appointed as the tenth Prime Minister of Malaysia

Anwar Ibrahim was appointed as the tenth Prime Minister of Malaysia

Anwar Ibrahim was appointed as the tenth Prime Minister of Malaysia


SINGAPORE — The wait is over. And it’s a return.

Nearly a week after Malaysia’s general election resulted in the dissolution of parliament, longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim appears to have won enough cross-party support to form the Southeast Asian country’s government, preventing the rise of more conservative political forces – at least for now.

Thursday’s appointment of Anwar as prime minister temporarily ended a chaotic election season that saw the fall of a political titan Mahathir Mohamadthe surprising gains of the far-right Islamic party and the endless infighting among supposed allies, caused in large part by the conviction of the disgraced former prime minister Najib Razak on charges involving money laundering and abuse of office.

After consulting with state-level rulers earlier in the day, Malaysia’s king approved the appointment of Anwar as the country’s 10th prime minister, according to a statement from Istana Negara, the monarch’s seat, on Thursday afternoon. In Malaysia, a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy, the king formally appoints the head of government.

The announcement marks a dramatic comeback for Anwar, 75. He founded the country’s Reformasi political movement, which has been rallying for social justice and equality since the 1990s. He is also known as an advocate of Muslim democracy, and previously expressed admiration for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. which was once seen as 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 religions are widely practiced.

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

A former deputy to Mahathir, later seen as his bitter rival, Anwar spent decades striving to reach the country’s highest political office, along the way gaining the support and friendship of international leaders such as former US Vice President Al Gore.

He also served two long prison terms for sodomy and corruption – convictions that 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 also 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 Sultan Ahmad Shah – that he had 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 seats in the latest polls, putting it in the king position.

While Anwar may have emerged victorious, he now faces a major challenge in uniting a divided electorate, analysts say.

Anwar opposes the racially based policies of affirmative action that have been a hallmark of past Barisan Nasional-led governments. Some analysts believe that policies favoring Malay Muslims have created a broad middle class in the country of 32.5 million people. But critics blame the laws for stoking racial animosity, driving young Malaysian Indian and Chinese minorities out of the country and fueling systemic corruption.

Ahead of 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 condemned Muhyiddin’s remarks. Anwar also slammed 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 said on Twitter.

Regardless of whether they back him, Anwar’s appointment allows Malaysians to point to two years of political turmoil that have included the resignations of two prime ministers, allegations of power grabs and snap elections held in the middle of the tropical country’s monsoon season.

“We have been waiting for some time for stability, for democracy to be restored,” said Adrian Pereira, a labor rights activist from the western state of Selangor. Voters are still anxious to see what kind of coalition Anwar has built and how the split will work, “but for now it’s kind of a relief for everybody,” he said.

Rafizi Ramli, deputy head 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 who 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 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 mediator in recent years, forming partnerships with other parties that support pro-Malay-Muslim politics.

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

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

While the country, along with neighboring Indonesia, has long been touted as a moderate Islamic nation, that may be changing, Chin said. PAS has made its biggest gains in rural areas, he noted, and there is early evidence that it has gained support from new voters, including young Malays. Liberal and non-Malay Muslim voters are now worried that a strengthened PAS is positioned to extend its influence, including over the country’s education policy.

“I knew PAS had a lot of support in the Malay heartland… But I still didn’t know they could spread so quickly,” said Chin. “No one is.”

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

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