Long-time reform leader Anwar sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister Thursday, a victory for political reformers who battled Malaysian nationalists for days after a divisive general election produced a deadlocked parliament..

Broadcast live on national television, Anwar took his oath in a simple ceremony at the National Palace on Thursday night.

Malaysia’s King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah appointed Anwar, 75, as the country’s 10th leader after he said he was satisfied that Anwar was the candidate likely to have majority support.

Anwar’s Alliance of Hope led Saturday’s election with 82 seats, short of the 112 needed for a majority. An unexpected surge in support from ethnic Malays saw former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s right-wing National Alliance win 73 seats, with its ally the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party the largest party with 49 seats.

The stalemate was resolved after the long-ruling bloc led by the United Malays National Organization agreed to support the Anwar-led unity government. Such a union was once unthinkable in Malaysian politics, long dominated by rivalries between the two parties. Other influential groups on the island of Borneo said they would follow the king’s decision.

“His Royal Highness reminds all parties that winners do not win everything and losers do not lose everything,” the palace said in a statement. The monarch urged Anwar and his new government to be humble, saying all warring parties should reconcile to ensure a stable government and end the political turmoil in Malaysia that has seen three prime ministers since the 2018 polls.

The statement did not give any details about the government that will be formed.

Muhyiddin, 75, refused to concede defeat. At a press conference, Muhyiddin called on Anwar to prove that he had the majority support of lawmakers to ward off doubts about his leadership.

Police have tightened security nationwide as social media posts warned of racial problems if Anwar’s multi-ethnic bloc wins. Anwar’s party urged supporters to refrain from celebratory rallies or issuing sensitive statements to avoid the risk of provocation.

Anwar’s rise to the top caps his roller-coaster political journey and alleviate fears of greater Islamization. But he faces an uphill task to bridge racial divides that widened after Saturday’s poll, as well as revive an economy struggling with rising inflation and a currency that has sunk to its weakest point. Malays make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, which include large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

“He will have to make compromises with other actors in government, which means the reform process will be more inclusive,” said Bridget Welsh, a political expert on Southeast Asia. “Anwar is a globalist, which will ensure international investors. He has been seen to be a bridge-builder across communities, which will test his leadership going forward, but also offer a reassuring hand for the challenges Malaysia will face.

Anwar was a former deputy prime minister whose sacking and imprisonment in the 1990s led to massive street protests and a reform movement that became a major political force. Thursday marked the second victory for his reform bloc – its first being the historic 2018 polls that led to the first regime change since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.

Anwar was in prison at the time on sodomy charges, which he said were politically motivated. He was pardoned and was to take over from Mahathir Mohamad. But the government collapsed after Muhyiddin defected and allied with UMNO to form a new government. Muhyiddin’s government was plagued by internal rivalries and he resigned after 17 months. UMNO leader Ismail Sabri Yaakob was then chosen by the king as prime minister.

Many rural Malays fear they may lose their privileges with more pluralism under Anwar. Fed up with corruption and infighting in UMNO, many opted for Muhyiddin’s bloc in Saturday’s vote.

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