Anwar Ibrahim becomes Malaysia PM after decades of waiting

Anwar’s reformist Pakatan Harapan will lead the next government after being chosen by King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, the palace said in a statement. The monarch intervened after no alliance secured a majority in a general election Saturday in which Anwar’s coalition won the most seats.

“His Majesty reminds all quarters that whoever wins, doesn’t win all, and those who lose do not lose all,» the palace said. “The people should not be burdened by endless political turmoil as the country needs a stable government that will boost the economic landscape and national development.»

Anwar Ibrahim’s swearing-in will be at 5 p.m. local time. 

It’s a defining achievement for Anwar, 75, the almost man of Malaysian politics who was seen as former premier Mahathir Mohamad’s successor back in the 1990s and set to replace him after the 2018 election, only for the plans to unravel both times. It’s also an important moment for Malaysian democracy after voters resoundingly rejected the country’s long-ruling political old guard.

Pakatan Harapan got the most seats in Saturday’s general elections — 82 out of 220 up for grabs that day — but fell short of winning a majority, leading to the first hung parliament in the nation’s history. Former premier Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional wasn’t far behind at 73 seats, and was also angling to cobble together a government.

The country was thrown into turmoil as the two men scrambled to make deals with other parties to secure a majority. The monarch was forced to step in and hold talks with various parties before eventually announcing Anwar as prime minister. Markets cheered the news with Malaysian stocks heading for the most in two years and the ringgit holding onto gains.  

Barisan Nasional, Anwar’s longtime nemesis, ruled Malaysia almost without interruption since its independence in 1957 but the scandal-beset group suffered its heaviest-ever defeat in the weekend vote. Despite that, its 30 seats gave it a strong influence in deciding which coalition would lead the government.

The need to form partnerships to secure a majority could make it more difficult for Anwar to achieve his campaign pledges, which include addressing the rising cost of living, undertaking key reforms and taking a hard line on corruption.

“Malaysia can finally look to a new prime minister but major hurdles remain ahead as Anwar Ibrahim looks to stabilize a loosely cobbled federal government,»said Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, deputy managing director at BowerGroupAsia. “The next step is for Anwar to form a Cabinet that is able to appease all parties.»

The election also saw the rise of Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, or PAS as it’s known, a party with a long-stated objective of transforming Malaysia into an Islamic state. Scores of ethnic Malay voters turned from Barisan Nasional to PAS, giving it the most seats among any single party and establishing it as a force in Malaysian politics. 

The swing came after about 6 million young voters were registered to cast ballots for the first time as the country lowered the voting age to 18 from 21, although it’s not clear how they voted.

“Malaysians have been voting at cross purposes since 1998, and there is an apparent peak polarisation now in 2022,» said Khor Yu Leng, a regional economist at Segi Enam Advisors. Anwar will have to bridge divisions and he needs to look at a “more inspired budget, a pro-people reforms drive and the re-professionalization of the political economy.»

PH and its coalition partners, which have yet to be announced, will probably have to deal with a slowdown in the economy after a rapid but uneven rebound from the pandemic. Gross domestic product expanded at a region-beating 14.2% in the latest quarter thanks to tailwinds from commodities and oil and robust manufacturing, but inflation has almost doubled from the start of the year, despite subsidies on food and fuel.

The central bank’s growth target for 2023 is 4%-5% versus an estimate of more than 7% this year, to reflect the weakness of the global outlook.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television earlier this month, Anwar said his alliance would focus on bolstering the nation’s smaller sized firms instead of just helping large corporate groups. 

“We have to shift the focus from enriching the few through corrupt deals or benefiting the conglomerates — the top 2% — to enhancing opportunities for SMEs,» Anwar said at the time. 

Anwar’s political career has been a case of so near, but yet so far. He was considered in line to succeed Mahathir in the 1990s before he was fired in the wake of the Asian Financial Crisis, after which he spent six years in prison on convictions for abuse of power and sodomy, the latter a crime in the largely Islamic nation.

He then joined hands with Mahathir to win the 2018 election, only to see his old rival fail to honor a promise to step aside. Tensions between the two eventually led to the government collapsing. Anwar made several more unsuccessful bids to become premier in the wake of Mahathir’s resignation.  

 

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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