Anwar Ibrahim appointed 10th Prime Minister of Malaysia

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SINGAPORE – The wait is over. And it’s a comeback.

Nearly a week after Malaysia’s general election resulted in a hung parliament, longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim appears to have won enough support among disparate parties to form the Southeast Asian country’s government, staving off the rise of more conservative political forces — at least for now.

The appointment of Anwar as prime minister on Thursday temporarily ended a chaotic election period that saw the fall of political titan Mahathir Mohamad, surprise gains by the far-right Islamic Party and endless infighting between alleged allies, fueled in large part by the conviction of disgraced former prime minister Najib Razak on charges including money laundering and abuse of power.

After consulting state-level rulers earlier in the day, Malaysia’s king approved the appointment of Anwar as the country’s 10th prime minister, Istana Negara, the monarch’s residence, said in a statement 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 well known as a supporter of Muslim democracy and has previously professed admiration for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was once considered a moderate democrat. Islam is the state religion in Muslim-majority Malaysia, which has significant economic and security ties with the United States, but other religions are also widely practiced.

This Malaysian politician was imprisoned and convicted. Now he is on the brink of power.

Anwar, a former deputy to Mahathir who was later seen as his bitter rival, spent decades trying to reach the country’s highest political post while winning the support and friendship of international leaders such as former US Vice President Al Gore.

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

Anwar’s multi-ethnic reform 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 several dozen seats short of the 112 needed to form a majority. It 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 it had the mandate to form the next government.

Anwar’s accession was made possible after Barisan Nasional, the conservative coalition that has ruled 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 triumphant, he now faces a tough challenge to unite the country’s divided electorate, analysts say.

Anwar opposes the racially based policies of affirmative action that have been the hallmark of past Barisan Nasional-led governments. The policy, which favors Malaysian Muslims, is seen by some analysts as creating a broad middle class in the country of 32.5 million people. But critics accuse the laws of stoking racial animosity, driving young people from Malaysia’s Indian and Chinese minorities out of the country and fueling systemic corruption.

Before the election, PN leader and former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin made anti-Semitic claims that Anwar’s coalition was working with Jews and Christians to “Christianize” Malaysia.

Malaysian Council of Churches convicted Muhyiddin’s notes. 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 pluralistic reality,” he said on Twitter.

Regardless of whether they supported him, Anwar’s appointment allows Malaysians to put an end to two years of political turmoil that has included the resignation of two prime ministers, allegations of power-grabbing and early elections held in the middle of the tropical country’s monsoon season.

“We have been waiting for a while for some stability, for the restoration of democracy,” said Adrian Pereira, a workers’ rights activist from the western state of Selangor. Voters are still anxious to see what kind of coalition Anwar has built and how power-sharing will work, “but for now it’s a bit 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 “government of unity”.

“We must all move forward and learn to work together to rebuild Malaysia,” he added declaration who also urged Malaysians to ease political tensions by avoiding “provocative” messages or rallies.

Analysis: Most people don’t know enough about Malaysia and its government. Here is what you should 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, advocates an eventual Islamic government in Malaysia and has emerged as a power broker in recent years, forging partnerships with other parties that support pro-Malay-Muslim politics.

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

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

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

“I knew PAS had strong support in the Malaysian heartland… But I still didn’t know they could spread so fast,” Chin said. “No one did.

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

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