KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (AP) — Longtime reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim He was sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister on Thursday, vowing to heal a nation divided by ethnicity, fight corruption and revive an economy struggling with a high cost of living.
His rise to the top was a victory for political reformers who had been locked in a battle with Malay nationalists for days after Saturday’s divisive general election resulted in a hung parliament. Anwar was sworn in in a simple ceremony at the National Palace broadcast on national television.
The King of Malaysia, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, named Anwar the country’s tenth leader after saying he was satisfied that Anwar was the candidate likely to command majority support.
Anwar said in his first press conference that he would form a unity government that includes the Hope Alliance, which won 82 seats, the National Front with 30 seats, and a bloc from the eastern state of Sarawak with 23 seats. He said that would give him a majority of 135 seats, with other smaller blocs expected to join.
“There is no doubt about my legitimacy,” Anwar said after his rival, former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, questioned him having majority support. Anwar said his government would propose a vote of confidence when parliament meets on Dec. 19.
An unexpected wave of Malay ethnic support propelled the right-leaning National Alliance to victory with 73 seats, with its ally the Malaysian Islamic Party emerging as the largest single party with 49 seats.
The stalemate was resolved after the National Front, 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.
“His Highness reminds all parties that winners do not win all, and losers do not lose everything,” a statement from the palace said. Sultan Abdullah urged all conflicting parties to reconcile to ensure a stable government and end political turmoil in Malaysia, which has led to the election of three prime ministers since the 2018 elections.
The Malaysian stock market and currency jumped following the news of Anwar’s appointment.
Police tightened security across the country as social media posts warned of racial problems if Anwar’s multiracial bloc won. Anwar’s party urged its supporters to refrain from festive gatherings to avoid the risk of provocation.
Anwar said he hoped his victory would bring new hope to Malaysians who yearn for a fairer country, and assured the majority of Muslim Malays that they had nothing to fear. He said his priority will be to strengthen the economy as it faces an expected slowdown next year and to fight rising inflation.
Many rural Malays feared that they might lose their privileges with greater pluralism under Anwar’s rule. Fed up with corruption and infighting in the long-ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), many chose Muhyiddin’s bloc in Saturday’s vote.
“Malaysia is more than six decades old. Every Malaysian regardless of race, religious belief or region, especially Sabah and Sarawak, should not be left to feel ignored in any way. No one should be marginalized under my administration.” Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo are among the two poorest states in the country.
On Monday, Anwar declared an official holiday to mark the victory of his bloc.
Anwar’s ascension to the highest office would have concluded his volatile political journey and would have allayed his fears of Akbar’s Islamization. But he faces the daunting task of bridging racial divisions that deepened after Saturday’s election, as well as reviving the economy. Malays make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, which include large Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities.
Anwar is a globalist, which will reassure international investors. He is seen as a builder of bridges across societies, one that will test his drive going forward, but at the same juncture offers a reassuring hand to the challenges Malaysia will face, said Bridget Welsh, Southeast Asia political expert at Malaysia’s University of Nottingham. .
Secretary of State Antony Blinken extended his congratulations to Anwar in a statement, noting that the United States looks forward to deepening its friendship with Malaysia.
Anwar, 75, was a former deputy prime minister whose ouster and imprisonment in the 1990s led to mass street protests and a reform movement that became a major political force. Thursday marked the second victory of his reformist bloc – the first was the historic 2018 election that led to the ouster of UMNO and its 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.
“Coffee trailblazer. Certified pop culture lover. Infuriatingly humble gamer.”