It will heal a racially divided nation and revive the economy, says Malaysia’s new PM

Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah named Anwar the nation’s 10th leader after saying he was satisfied Anwar is the candidate likely to have the majority of support.

Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Prime Minister of Malaysia (Photo: AP)

By Associated Press: Veteran reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister on Thursday, vowing to heal a racially divided nation, fight corruption and revive an economy struggling with the rising 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 a divisive general election on Saturday produced a parliament with no majority. Anwar was sworn in in a simple ceremony at the national palace that was broadcast on national television.

Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah named Anwar the nation’s 10th leader after saying he was satisfied Anwar is the candidate likely to have the majority of support.

In his first news conference, Anwar said he would form a unity government made up of the Alliance of Hope 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 question about my legitimacy,” Anwar said after his rival, former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, questioned whether he has majority support. Anwar said his government will propose a confidence vote when Parliament reconvenes on December 19.

An unexpected surge of ethnic Malay support propelled Muhyiddin’s right-leaning National Alliance to win 73 seats, with his ally Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party emerging as the largest single party with 49 seats.

READ ALSO | Anwar Ibrahim appointed Prime Minister of Malaysia, to be sworn in today

The stalemate was resolved after the National Front, led by the United Malays National Organization, agreed to support a unity government under Anwar. Such a link was once unthinkable in Malaysian politics, long dominated by rivalry between the two parties.

“His Royal Highness reminds all parties that winners do not win all and losers do not lose all,” a palace statement said. Sultan Abdullah urged all opposing parties to reconcile to ensure a stable government and end Malaysia’s political turmoil, which has led to three prime ministers since the 2018 election.

The Malaysian stock market and currency rose on the news of Anwar’s appointment.

Police had tightened security across the country as social media posts warned of racial issues if Anwar’s multi-ethnic bloc won. Anwar’s party has urged his supporters to refrain from holding meetings to avoid the risk of provocation.

Anwar said he hoped his victory would bring new hope to Malays who yearn for a more equal nation, assuring the majority of Malay Muslims that they have nothing to fear. He said his priority will be to strengthen the economy as he faces an expected slowdown next year and fight rising inflation.

Many rural Malays fear losing their privileges with greater pluralism under Anwar. Fed up with corruption and infighting in the long-ruling UMNO, many opted for Muhyiddin’s bloc in Saturday’s vote.

“Malaysia is over six decades old. All Malaysians, regardless of their ethnicity, religious belief or region, particularly Sabah and Sarawak, should not feel ignored in any way. None should be marginalized under my administration,” he said. Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo are among two of the poorest states in the country.

Anwar declared Monday a public holiday to commemorate his bloc’s victory.

Anwar’s rise to the top post caps off his political rollercoaster ride and will ease fears of further Islamization. But he faces a tall task to bridge the racial divisions that deepened after Saturday’s poll, as well as to revive the economy. Malays make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, who include large Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities.

READ ALSO | Reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim close to becoming Malaysia’s next prime minister

“Anwar is a globalist, which will reassure international investors. He has been seen as a builder of bridges between communities, which will test his leadership in the future, but at the same time offers a calming hand for the challenges that Malaysia will face,” said Bridget Welsh, an expert on Southeast Asia politics at Nottingham University of Malaysia. .

Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Anwar in a statement saying the United States looked forward to deepening its friendship with Malaysia.

Anwar, now 75, was a former deputy prime minister whose dismissal and imprisonment in the 1990s sparked massive street protests and a reform movement that became a major political force. Thursday marked the second victory for his reformist bloc: the first being the historic 2018 election that led to the ouster of UMNO and the first regime change since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.

Anwar was in prison at the time on a sodomy charge that he said was politically motivated. He was pardoned and was to replace Mahathir Mohamad. But the government collapsed after Muhyiddin defected and joined UMNO to form a new government. Muhyiddin’s government was beset by internal rivalries and he resigned after 17 months. UMNO leader Ismail Sabri Yaakob was then chosen by the king as prime minister.

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