Malaysia’s Anwar Gets to Work, Promises Inclusive Government | Election news

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Anwar Ibrahim began work as Malaysia’s prime minister after promising to lead an inclusive government in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious Southeast Asian nation.

Anwar appeared at the Prime Minister’s Office in the country’s administrative capital Putrajaya at 9:00 a.m. (01:00 GMT) on Friday after being sworn in by the king the day before.

In his first press conference on Thursday night, the 75-year-old veteran politician outlined his plans for the country.

He said he would not take a salary and that his government would “guarantee and protect the rights of all Malaysians, especially the marginalized and impoverished, regardless of race or religion”.

He also emphasized the importance of reform.

“We will never compromise on good governance, anti-corruption efforts, the independence of the judiciary and the welfare of ordinary Malaysians,” he said at the evening event.

Anwar was appointed prime minister by the king after an inconclusive election last Saturday in which his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition won the most seats but fell short of the majority needed to govern. PH will rule the country in a coalition with Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), the main party in Sarawak state in Malaysian Borneo, and Barisan Nasional (BN), the alliance that dominated Malaysian politics until 2018, when it lost power for the first time. in the middle of the multi-billion dollar 1MDB scandal.

Early in his press conference on Thursday, Anwar accepted congratulations from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after he shared a video on social media of him chatting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the first foreign leader to congratulate them. Describing Indonesia as a “true friend” of Malaysia, Anwar said he would focus on strengthening relations between the two countries.

Anwar in traditional Malay clothing in black with songkok (black hat) spikes as microphones from many different networks are extended to him
Anwar fielded the questions at a packed late-night press conference on Thursday, where he outlined plans for his administration [Vincent Thian//Pool via Reuters]

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken also congratulated Anwar and the people of Malaysia, noting the record number of votes cast in the election,

“We look forward to deepening our friendship and cooperation based on shared democratic principles and respect for human rights and the rule of law,” Blinken said. “We remain committed to working with Malaysia to develop a free and open, connected, prosperous, secure and resilient Indo-Pacific region.”

‘overwhelming majority’

Anwar’s appointment as prime minister capped a distinguished political journey for a man born in the northern state of Penang in 1947. After rising to prominence as a student activist, the young Anwar was lured into the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the dominant party in the then-ruling BN alliance, where he quickly climbed the rankings.

His shock sacking in 1998 and subsequent imprisonment on charges of corruption and sodomy fueled Malaysia’s political opposition, fueled calls for reform – known as “reformasi” – and contributed to a gradual realignment of the country’s politics. Anwar endured a second sodomy trial and conviction before being pardoned and released from prison in 2018.

“Only a man like Anwar could embody Malaysia’s contradictions and turn the country to a new page in history,” said James Chai, a visiting fellow in the Malaysian Studies Program at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. “Many would argue that he is exactly what the nation needs. The Reformasi generation can breathe a sigh of relief after years of despair.”

Anwar’s PH government is the second reform coalition after its last administration collapsed amid opposition from ethnic Malay conservatives after just 22 months. The country has been in a state of instability ever since with two prime ministers in as many years.

Anwar appears to want to draw a line at political maneuvering, saying a confidence vote to show the strength of the new coalition will be the first item on the agenda when parliament sits for the first time on December 19.

“We have a really convincing majority,” he said, adding at a press conference on Friday that it was two-thirds of all 222 seats in parliament. A majority of that size would give the coalition the power to change the constitution.

Former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who led the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, which also tried to form a government after a hung parliament, congratulated Anwar on his appointment on Friday.

In a statement, he said the PN would play a “check and balance role” in parliament.

The conservative alliance won the second most votes in the election with PAS, the Malaysian Islamic Party, winning the most seats among its members and becoming the single largest party in parliament.

Muhyiddin looks serious, surrounded by leaders of other parties in his coalition including Abdul Hadi Awang of PAS
PN leader Muhyiddin Yassin (centre) called on Anwar to “prove” his majority at a press conference shortly before Anwar was sworn into office. Anwar later said the vote of confidence would be the first item on the agenda at next month’s parliament session [Arif Kartono/AFP]

The PN leader on Thursday called on Anwar to “prove” his majority.

However, Muhyiddin himself did not vote in parliament after being appointed prime minister by the king in 2020 when a power struggle within the PH alliance led to its collapse.

Muhyiddin was part of the PH government but jumped ship with other politicians. He survived just 17 months in office before he too was brought down by politicking – and replaced by UMNO’s Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

Ismail Sabri held office for just over a year before calling for elections this November, also under pressure from factions in his party.

Building trust

Analysts say it is crucial for Anwar to learn from the first PH government and build trust to ensure the longevity of his administration.

“A lot will depend on who he appoints to his cabinet and whether they are able to work together,” Bridget Welsh said. “We can learn a lot from the first Pakatan Harapan government in terms of building trust, managing expectations and communicating. Those are the things that will be the challenge going forward.”

At a press conference on Friday, he reiterated that he would reduce the size of the cabinet, which has grown to nearly 70 ministers and deputies in recent years. Welsh said it was important that the appointees had the competence and experience given the challenges facing Malaysia and that it also reflected the socio-economic reality of Malaysia and its young population.

The country is predominantly ethnic Malay Muslims, and Islam is the official religion, but there are significant ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, as well as the indigenous population.

Race and religion have long been touchy subjects in the country and tensions have risen during the two-week election campaign, with police this week warning Malaysians against posting “provocative” content.

Jerald Joseph, until earlier this year Malaysia’s human rights commissioner and a long-time democracy campaigner, said he welcomed Malaysia’s potential to open a new chapter, noting that many recent reforms such as lowering the voting age and automatic voter registration were initiated under PH in 2018.

The new prime minister should focus on reforms to parliament, he added, including ensuring the appointment of a neutral speaker and strengthening specialist committees.

“Anwar has to prove himself like any other prime minister,” Joseph told Al Jazeera. “They have to make the reforms work. They have to make the administration work.”

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