The Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah on Thursday appointed the reformist opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahimas the country’s prime minister, ending days of uncertainty after divisive general elections generated a Parliament divided .
Anwar’s Alliance of Hope led Saturday’s election with 82 seats, less than the 112 needed for most. An unexpected surge of ethnic Malay support propelled former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s right-leaning National Alliance to win 73 seats, with its ally Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party emerging as the largest single party with 49 seats.
The deadlock was resolved after the ruling bloc 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. Other influential groups on the island of Borneo have said they will follow the king’s decision.
“His Royal Highness reminds all parties that winners do not win everything and losers do not lose everything”, read a statement from the palace. The monarch urged Anwar and his new government to be humble, saying all opposing parties must reconcile to ensure a stable government and end Malaysia’s political turmoil, which has led to three prime ministers since the 2018 election. .
The palace statement said the king was satisfied that Anwar is the candidate most likely to have the support of the majority, but gave no details of the new government.
Police have 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 celebratory gatherings or issuing sensitive statements to avoid the risk of provocation.
Anwar’s rise to the top caps his political rollercoaster ride and will ease fears about further Islamization. But he faces an arduous task to bridge racial divides that deepened after Saturday’s election, as well as revive an economy battling rising inflation and a currency that has fallen to its weakest point. Malays make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, who include large Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities.
“He will have to make compromises with other actors in the government, which means the reform process will be more inclusive,” said Bridget Welsh, an expert on Southeast Asia politics. “Anwar is a globalist, which will ensure international investors have been seen as a builder of bridges between communities, which will test his leadership in the future, but at the same time offers a reassuring hand for the challenges that Malaysia will face.”
Anwar 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 first regime change since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.
Anwar was in prison at the time on a charge of sodomy which, 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.
Many rural Malays fear losing their privileges with greater pluralism under Anwar. Fed up with corruption and infighting in UMNO, many opted for Muhyiddin’s bloc in Saturday’s vote.
(with information from AP)
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