Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the “coalition of hope” (Pakatan Harapan), victorious in number of seats (82) in the November 19 elections in Malaysia but below the necessary threshold (112 seats) to form a majority, was appointed prime minister on Thursday 24 November after four days of uncertainty and negotiations.
For Mr. Anwar, 75, this half-hearted victory has the taste of political and personal revenge: it took twenty years of political battles, including ten years spent in prison, often in solitary confinement, to that this Malay and Muslim reformer, champion of the “reformasi” movement (late 1990s, early 2000s) which advocates a multicultural and more inclusive Malaysia, reaches Putrajaya, the seat of government on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. He is facing a sizeable challenge: to reform a system that favors the Malay ethnic group, the majority, to the detriment of the Chinese (23% of the population) and Indian (7%) communities, without alienating them, in a context of the rise of political Islam and fundamentalist currents in this 63% Muslim country.
“Need a stable government”
The absence of a majority at the exit of the polls, Saturday evening, November 19, had given the kick-off, behind the scenes, to bitter negotiations between the two coalitions best placed, that of Mr. Anwar, and that of the former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (2020-2021), to join the third of the so-called National Front (Barisan nasional), centered around the National Organization of Malay Unity (UMNO), the party historical leader of the Malaysian federation. Its leader, Zahid Hamidi, a former close associate of Anwar targeted by corruption charges, first rallied to the “coalition of hope” but had to face a revolt within his party.
Eventually, King Abdullah – one of nine sultans from the Federation of Malaysia states who alternate every five years –, after consultation with his counterparts on Thursday morning, decided to entrust Anwar with the right to form a “government of unity” with the parliamentarians from Umno and several parties from the island of Borneo. “The people cannot endure endless political turmoil as the country needs a stable government to restore the economic environment and national development,” specifies a royal press release. Mr. Anwar was sworn in as Prime Minister by the King at Istana Negara, the monarch’s official residence.
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