In a heroic development that got tongues wagging across the nation, Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim has been sworn in as the nation’s prime minister, capping a three-decade political journey from a protégé of veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad to protest leader, a prisoner convicted of sodomy and opposition leader.
Ibrahim’s appointment ended five days of unprecedented post-election crisis, but could usher in a new instability with his rival, former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, challenging him to prove his majority in Parliament.
According to official reports, both men failed to win a majority in the keenly contested election, but the constitutional monarch, King Al-Sultan Abdullah, appointed Anwar after speaking to several lawmakers.
The 75-year-old’s takeover is coming at a time that nation’s economy is slowing and the country is divided after a tight election that pitted Anwar’s progressive coalition against Muhyiddin’s mostly conservative ethnic-Malay, Muslim alliance.
Reports have it that Ibrahim has time and again been denied the premiership despite getting within striking distance over the years: It could be recalled that he was deputy prime minister in the 1990s and the official prime minister-in-waiting in 2018.
Records have it that in between, he spent nearly a decade in jail for sodomy and corruption in what he alleged that were politically motivated charges aimed at ending his career.
Local reports also have it that Anwar’s coalition, known as Pakatan Harapan, won the most seats in the recent election with 82, while Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional bloc won 73. They need 112 — a simple majority — to form a government.
On the other hand, the long-ruling Barisan bloc won only 30 seats, the worst electoral performance for a coalition that had dominated politics since independence in 1957.
It should be noted that Muhyiddin’s bloc includes the Islamist party PAS, whose electoral gains raised concern in a country with significant ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian minorities, most of whom follow other faiths.
Harping on the development, James Chai, visiting fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said “Anwar is appointed at a critical juncture in Malaysian history, where politics is most fractured, recovering from a depressed economy and a bitter COVID memory”.
“Always regarded as the man who could unite all warring factions, it is fitting that Anwar emerged during a divisive time.”
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