Malaysia’s Anwar becomes prime minister

Malaysia | Thursday | November 24, 2022

Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as prime minister on Thursday, capping a three-decade political journey from a protege of veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad to protest leader, a prisoner convicted of sodomy, and opposition leader.

His appointment puts an end to the historic post-election crisis that lasted five days, but his competitor, former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, may challenge him to demonstrate his majority in parliament, which might spark new unrest.

In a Saturday election, neither candidate received a majority of the vote, but King Al-Sultan Abdullah, the country’s constitutional monarch, appointed Anwar after consulting with many parliamentarians.

After a close election that pitted Anwar’s progressive coalition against Muhyiddin’s mostly conservative ethnic-Malay, Muslim alliance, the country is divided and the economy is slowing.

Following the resolution of the political impasse, markets soared. Equities increased by 3%, while the ringgit currency had its best day in two weeks.

Anwar, 75, has repeatedly come close to winning the leadership over the years. He served as deputy prime minister in the 1990s and as the formal prime minister-in-waiting in 2018.

He was imprisoned for nearly a decade in the interim for sodomy and corruption, which he claims were politically motivated accusations intended to put a stop to his career.

Political unrest in the Southeast Asian nation, which has had three prime ministers in as many years, threatens to be prolonged by the election’s uncertainties, and it also runs the risk of postponing the adoption of necessary policy measures to promote economic recovery.

Supporters of Anwar expressed optimism that his administration would prevent a resurgence of the long-standing hostility between the Chinese and Indian minorities and the ethnically Malay, Muslim majority.

Anwar represents moderation, according to a communications manager in Kuala Lumpur who asked to be identified only by her last name Tang.

“We cannot have racial and religious division in our country because that will take us back another 10 years.”

Before the election, Anwar stated in an interview with Reuters that if elected premier, he would work “to prioritize governance and anti-corruption, and rid this country of racism and religious prejudice.”

In the elections held on Saturday, his Pakatan Harapan coalition won 82 seats, while Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional group secured 73. A simple majority of 112 was required to create a government.

Only 30 seats were gained by the long-ruling Barisan group, which was the worst electoral result for a coalition that had controlled politics since independence in 1957.

Barisan declared on Thursday that it would not back a Muhyiddin-led administration, although it made no mention of Anwar.

After Anwar was appointed, Muhyiddin requested that Anwar provide evidence of his parliamentary majority.

Police step up security

The Islamist party PAS is a part of Muhyiddin’s alliance, and its election success alarmed many members of the ethnic Chinese and Indian communities, the majority of whom practice different religions.

The short video sharing app TikTok said it was on high alert for anything that violated its criteria after authorities warned of an increase in ethnic conflict on social media following the weekend elections.

Since the election, social media users have reported numerous TikTok posts that made reference to a riot that occurred in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur on May 13, 1969, during which about 200 people died, just days after opposition parties backed by ethnic Chinese voters gained support.

In order to maintain public safety and tranquility, police warned social media users not to post anything “provocative” and announced that they would be setting up 24-hour checkpoints on all major roadways around the nation.

King Al-Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah made the choice of prime minister after Anwar and Muhyiddin both missed the deadline he set for forming a government coalition on Tuesday afternoon.

Despite having a largely ceremonial role, the constitutional monarch has the power to name a premier who he thinks will have support from the majority of lawmakers.

In Malaysia’s distinctive constitutional monarchy, nine different royal families alternately elect kings to rule for five years.

As the economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, Anwar will need to manage rising inflation and sluggish development while easing ethnic tensions.

The budget for the upcoming year, which was introduced before the election was called but has not yet been approved, will be the most pressing problem.

To maintain the backing of the majority in parliament, Anwar will also need to strike agreements with legislators from different blocs.

According to James Chai, visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, “Anwar is chosen at a pivotal juncture in Malaysian history, where politics is most split, recuperating from a depressed economy, and a painful Covid memory.”

“It is appropriate that Anwar emerged during a contentious time. He was always considered as the one who could unify all warring factions.”

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