Anwar Ibrahim named Malaysia’s 10th prime minister


SINGAPORE – The wait is over. It’s a comeback.

Nearly a week after Malaysia’s general election led to a hung parliament, longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim appears to have gathered enough support across political parties to form a government in the Southeast Asian country, preventing further conservative political forces riseā€”at least for now.

Thursday’s appointment of Anwar as prime minister temporarily ended a chaotic election season that saw the fall of political tycoon Mahathir Mohamad, stunning gains by far-right Islamist parties and endless infighting among so-called allies that have largely It follows the conviction of disgraced former prime minister Najib Razak on charges including money laundering and abuse of power.

Malaysia’s king approved the appointment of Anwar as the country’s 10th prime minister after consultations with state-level rulers earlier in the day, Istana Negara, the seat of the monarchy, said in a statement on Thursday afternoon. In Malaysia, there is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy, where the king formally appoints the head of government.

The announcement marks a dramatic comeback for the 75-year-old Anwar. He founded the country’s Reformasi political movement, which has rallied for social justice and equality since the 1990s. He is also a known supporter of Muslim democracy and has previously expressed admiration for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was once seen as a moderate democrat. Islam is the state religion of Muslim-majority Malaysia, which has important economic and security ties to the United States, but other religions are widely practiced.

The Malaysian politician was jailed and condemned. He is now on the cusp of power.

A former deputy to Mahathir who was later seen as his arch-nemesis, Anwar has spent decades trying to ascend to the country’s top political office, winning over international leaders such as former U.S. Vice President Al Gore in the process support and friendship.

He also served two prison sentences for sodomy and corruption – convictions that Anwar and his supporters say were politically motivated.

Anwar’s multi-ethnic reform coalition, the Harapan of Hope (PH), or Pakatan Harapan, won 82 seats after last week’s elections. The coalition is the largest single bloc but is dozens of seats short of the 112 seats it needs to form a majority. It is competing against the right-wing coalition, the National Alliance (PN), which won 73 seats, to convince voters — and the country’s monarch, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah — that it has the right to form the next government.

The inclusion of Anwar comes as the conservative Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled Malaysia for much of its post-independence period said it would not take part in a PN-led government. Barisan Nasional won 30 seats in the latest polls, putting it in the king’s position.

While Anwar may have emerged victorious, he now faces the daunting challenge of uniting the country’s divided electorate, analysts said.

Anwar opposes race-based affirmative action policies that have been a hallmark of past Barisan Nasional-led governments. Some analysts believe the policies, which favor Malay-Muslims, have created a broad-based middle class in the country of 32.5 million people. But critics have accused the law of fueling racial hatred, driving young people from Malaysia’s Indian and Chinese minorities out of the country and contributing to systemic corruption.

On the eve of the election, Perikatan Nasional leader and former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin made anti-Semitic remarks that Anwar’s coalition was working with Jews and Christians to “Christianize” Malaysia.

Malaysian Council of Christians condemn Muhyiddin’s remarks. Anwar also criticized his rival’s remarks as hopeless. “I urge Muhyiddin to be a mature leader and not use racial propaganda to divide Malaysia’s pluralistic reality,” he tweeted.

Whether they support him or not, Anwar’s appointment gives Malaysians a thread through two years of political turmoil that has included the resignations of two prime ministers, allegations of a power grab and snap elections in the middle of the tropical nation’s monsoon season.

“For some time, we have been waiting for stability, for the restoration of democracy,” 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 a relief for everyone,” he said.

Anwar Party vice-chairman Rafiz Ramli said on Thursday that the new prime minister would lead a “unity government”.

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

Analysis: Most people don’t know enough about Malaysia and its government. This is what you should understand.

One of 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 campaigned as part of Muhyiddin’s PN, Advocating for eventual Islamic rule in Malaysia, it has become a power broker in recent years, forging partnerships with other parties that support pro-Malay-Muslim policies.

While Anwar’s coalition will govern, the Islamic Party will be the largest party in the lower house of parliament.

James Chin, a professor at the University of Tasmania who studies Malaysian politics, said he was “shocked” by PAS’ success, which he believed reflected the broader rise of political Islam in Malaysia.

While the country and neighboring Indonesia have long branded themselves as moderate Islamic countries, that may be changing, Chin said. He noted that PAS had made the biggest gains in rural areas and there was early evidence they were gaining support from new voters, including young Malays. Liberal and non-Malay Muslim voters now worry that a strengthened PAS will expand its influence, including over the country’s education policy.

“I knew PAS had strong support in the Malay heartland…but I still didn’t know they could expand so quickly,” Chen said. “No one has ever done that.”

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

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