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Malaysia's long-time opposition leader sworn in as PM

November 24, 2022

By appointing Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's king ended five days of unprecedented post-election confusion. The move comes as the highlight of Anwar's roller-coaster political career.

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim arrives at a hotel for talks with a rival party
Anwar Ibrahim has been on the brink of becoming the prime minister twice beforeImage: Vincent Thian/AP/picture alliance

Malaysia's Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah swore in former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister on Thursday in a simple ceremony at the national palace. 

The appointment, the highlight of Anwar's roller-coaster political career, brings to an end five days of unprecedented post-election confusion after the polls delivered no obvious winner.

"I will take on this responsibility entrusted to me with humility and responsibility,'' Anwar said in a tweet after his inauguration. 

Anwar pledged to keep Malay as the official language and would uphold the special rights of Malays, as well as keep Islam as the official religion of the country. But he also promised change, vowing to make the economy his focus also fight corruption.  

What happened in the election?

Anwar's Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition campaigned on an anti-corruption messsage and garnered the most seats, 82, in the parliament. But their camp is still well short of well the required 112-seat majority.

Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's rightist Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance) grouping managed 73 seats. However, even with the backing of an Islamist party, Muhyiddin said his political bloc did not have enough seats.

The stalemate was resolved after the coalition led by Muhyiddin's Malaysian United Indigenous Party, also known as Bersatu, agreed to be part of a unity government under Anwar.

The coalition led by Anwar is a multi-ethnic one with a more progressive agenda than Muhyiddin's, which reflected more conservative ethnic Malay and Muslim views. Many rural Muslim Malays fear that greater pluralism under Anwar means they may lose their privileges.

Malaysia's long-ruling Barisan Nasional bloc — which dominated the country's politics since independence in 1957 — won only 30 seats, marking the worst polling performance in its history. However, Anwar said in a speech after inauguration that it would also be represented in the unity government.

Malaysians cast their votes in general election

Anwar Ibrahim's rise to power

The 75-year-old reformist founded an Islamic youth movement and was arrested in the 1970s during student protests against rural poverty and hunger, and later imprisoned.

In 1981, he was recruited into the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), Malaysia's "Grand Old Party" and Barisan's most dominant member.

Anwar has been on the brink of taking power twice.

He rose to become deputy prime minister and finance minister in the 1990s and was groomed to take over from then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

However, Anwar was fired in September 1998 amid division over Malaysia's reaction to the Asian economic crisis.

He was detained without trial and then charged with sodomy and corruption. Anwar said the charges were politically motivated.

Malaysia's top court overturned the sodomy conviction in 2004, a year after Mahathir stepped down as prime minister after more than two decades in power.

Anwar formed a rival coalition to the UMNO-led Barisan government, which was gaining ground until he was imprisoned a second time for sodomy.

Mahathir became prime minister for the second time in 2018, spectacularly toppling the UMNO-led alliance. Anwar was pardoned and there was an agreement to hand over the premiership to him later. However, Mahathir did not fulfill that pact and Anwar was denied power again.

Muhyiddin resigned after 17 months amid internal rivalries and the king chose UMNO leader Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who called the latest election, as prime minister in 2021.

rc/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)