KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister Thursday, in a victory for political reformers locked in a battle with Malay nationalists for days after a divisive general election that resulted in a hung parliament..
Broadcast live on national television, Anwar was sworn in on Thursday night in a simple ceremony at the National Palace.
Malaysia’s king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, named Anwar, 75, the country’s 10th leader after saying he was satisfied that Anwar was the candidate most likely to command majority support.
Anwar’s Alliance of Hope topped Saturday’s elections with 82 seats, short of the 112 seats needed for a majority. An unexpected surge in ethnic Malaysian support propelled former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s right-leaning National Alliance to win 73 seats, with ally the Islamic Party of Malaysia emerging as the largest single party with 49 seats.
The deadlock was resolved after the long ruling bloc led by UMNO agreed to support a national unity government led by Anwar. Such a link was out of the question in Malaysian politics, long dominated by bipartisan rivalry. Other influential groups in Borneo said they would follow the king’s decision.
“His Highness reminds all parties that winners do not win all, and losers do not lose everything,” a statement from the palace said. King Anwar and his new government urged humility and said all opposition parties must reconcile to ensure a stable government and end the political turmoil in Malaysia, which has led to the election of three prime ministers since the 2018 election.
The statement did not give details of the government that will be formed.
Muhyiddin, 75, refused to accept defeat. In a press conference, Muhyiddin challenged Anwar to prove that he has the support of the majority of lawmakers to dispel doubts about his leadership.
Police have tightened security across the country as social media posts warned of racism problems if Anwar’s multi-ethnic bloc wins. Anwar’s party urged its supporters to refrain from celebratory rallies or issuing sensitive statements to avoid the risk of provocation.
Anwar’s rise to the top served as a cover for his volatile political journey It will ease fears of a greater Islamization. But he faces the daunting task of bridging ethnic divisions that deepened after Saturday’s election, as well as reviving an economy suffering from soaring inflation and a currency that has fallen to its weakest point. Malays make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, which include large Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities.
“He will have to make compromises with other actors in the government, which means the reform process will be more inclusive,” said Bridget Welch, a political expert on Southeast Asia. Anwar is a globalist, which will reassure international investors. He was seen as a bridge-builder across communities, who would test his drive going forward but at the same juncture offer a reassuring hand to the challenges Malaysia would face.”
Anwar was a former deputy prime minister, and his dismissal and imprisonment in the 1990s led to mass street protests and a reform movement that became a major political force. Thursday marked his reformist bloc’s second victory – the first being the historic 2018 elections that led to the first regime change Since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.
Anwar was in prison at the time on charges of sodomy that he said were politically motivated. He was pardoned and was to take over Mahathir Mohamad’s position. But the government collapsed after Muhyiddin defected and teamed up with UMNO to form a new government. Muhyiddin’s government suffered from internal rivalries and he resigned after 17 months. Then the king chose UMNO leader Ismail Sabri Yakub as prime minister.
Many rural Malays feared that they might lose their privileges with greater pluralism under Anwar’s rule. Fed up with corruption and infighting at UMNO, many chose Muhyiddin’s bloc in Saturday’s vote.