Anwar Ibrahim, 75, was appointed the 10th PM of Malaysia — fifth in less than five years — in a national palace ceremony, ending the impasse caused by a hung parliament in the general elections. Markets surged on the end of political deadlock. The ringgit currency posted its best day in two weeks and equities rose 3%.
It was the culmination of a stunning comeback for Anwar, whose career has included a stint as deputy prime minister, two jail terms that were considered politically motivated, and, finally, the role of longtime opposition leader.
The multi-racial, and multi-ethnic nation of over 33 million, reeling under more than two years of political turmoil, economic hardships and corrupt leaders, waited with baited breath for King Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah to select Anwar and his coalition Pakatan Harappan to lead the country. In accordance with the constitutional monarchy provisions, the king met all the royal heads of the nine states on Thursday and in consensus declared Anwar as the new PM. “The fact is, people cannot be burdened by endless political turmoil when what the country needs is a stable government that is able to stimulate the economic landscape and development of the country,” the palace said in a statement.
In his first news conference, Anwar said he would form a unity government comprising his Pakatan Harapan that won 82 seats, the National Frontwith 30 seats and a bloc from eastern Sarawak state with 23 seats. He said that would give him a majority of 135 seats, with other smaller blocs expected to join in. He also said his government will propose a vote of confidence when parliament reconvenes Dec 19. Anwar said he wishes his victory will bring new hope for Malaysians longing for a more equitable nation, and assured majority Malay Muslims that they have nothing to fear. He said his priority will be to strengthen the economy as it faces an expected slowdown next year and fight rising inflation.
Anwar rose to political prominence when he was part of the Malay nationalist UMNO, which has prioritised the indigenous Malay population over the country’s minorities. But after a falling out with the party, Anwar has called for equal treatment of its minorities, mainly ethnic Chinese and Indian. “Being a minority here, I feel like this is the one sliver of hope that we have left,” said Mahaysyhaa Shriedhaa A/P Gopal, a Malaysian of Indian descent, after she voted for Pakatan Harapan. Urbane and charismatic, Anwar speaks often about the importance of democracy and quotes from Gandhi as well as the Quran.
For years, Anwar was the heir apparent for Mahathir Mohamad, the long time leader of UMNO. But in the late 1990s, the relationship betweenthem deteriorated after Anwar criticised what he saw as a culture of cronyism within UMNO. Later, both men differed over the handling of the Asian financial crisis. “Here was a firebrand and dynamic young leader, hailing from a Muslim fundamentalist party but completely untainted, and helping the country tide over the Asian financial crisis as finance minister when he was unceremoniously dumped and even maligned. The nation was shocked,” said A Ravendiran Arjunan, a Malaysian Indian businessman, and vice president, GOPIO Malaysia, who, like many other Indians, rallied around Anwar when he was imprisoned. Interestingly, when Anwar formed his People’s Justice Party, popularly called the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), in 2003, nearly 60% of its members were Indians.
In 1998, Anwar was fired from the cabinet. He started a protest movement called Reformasi (Reform) that called for the end of corruption and greater social justice. Anwar served two lengthy stints in prison for sodomy and corruption. His first incarceration on September 20, 1998, under the Internal Security Act, gave rise to a spate of protests in the country. In 2008, another sodomy charge was slapped on him, leading to a round of jail terms. After his release from prison, Anwar taught abroad before returning home to run for office again. He won a by-election, trouncing UMNO, and was again arrested that year over sodomy charges, which he denies. In 2014, Anwar was sentenced to five years in jail. But Anwar was back in the orbit of the prime minister’s job in a few years. He had made up with Mahathir. They successfully ousted the UMNO government, which was led by Najib Razak, but had another falling out over succession plans. Now, Anwar is finally in the seat he has long sought.