KUALA LUMPUR: Anwar Ibrahim, arguably the most charismatic opposition leader Malaysia has ever seen, was sworn in as prime minister on Thursday, reaching the apogee of a three-decade-long political career that saw him rise as a companion, then foe, to former PM Mahathir Mohamad, and serve long years in jail.
Clad in traditional Malay attire and headgear, the leader of the reformist alliance, Pakatan Harapan, or PH, took the oath of office at the National Palace before Malaysia’s King Al-Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah.
Last week’s election resulted in an unprecedented hung parliament, with neither opposition leader Ibrahim nor former PM Muhyiddin Yassin winning the simple majority needed to form a government.
The stalemate was resolved after the king held a meeting with the nine-member Conference of Rulers on Thursday.
In a statement released after the huddle, the palace said the decision to name Anwar, 75, as the 10th prime minister of Malaysia was made “for the interests and well-being of the nation and people.”
“After going through the views of the other Malay rulers, His Royal Highness has granted his consent to appoint Anwar Ibrahim as Malaysia’s 10th prime minister,” the statement said.
At last week’s vote, Malaysia’s 15th general election, the PH led with 82 seats, closely trailed by Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional, which won 73 seats. The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition only bagged 30 seats.
Malaysia’s longest-serving leader, Mahathir, also faced a shocking loss, which many experts said signaled the end of the former prime minister’s political influence and career.
A political tussle then ensued between coalition parties that left the country in a state of political uncertainty for days.
So long and tumultuous was Anwar’s political struggle that his opponents for years chided him with the title, “Prime Minister-in-Waiting.”
A “rising star” in the Malay nationalist party, or UMNO, in the 1980s, Anwar rose as Mahathir’s protege.
However, political disagreement between the two led to Anwar’s sacking as deputy PM in 1998, igniting the Reformasi, or reformation, movement and giving birth to the People’s Justice Party or PKR.
Repeated stints in jail in the last two decades also did not deter Anwar’s prime minister ambitions.
In 2018, Mahathir’s political comeback renewed hopes for Anwar and he was freed from jail and pardoned by the king.
But as cracks emerged within the Mahathir-led Malaysian United Indigenous Party, or BERSATU, and Mahathir abruptly stepped down, the vacuum that was created allowed Muhyiddin to rise to the PM’s office.
Now, Anwar finally takes over at a challenging time of soaring inflation and slowing growth as the Malaysian economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Calming ethnic tensions will also be a top concern.
Adib Zalkapli, a director at the consulting firm Bower Group Asia, said Anwar was expected to be a “reformist” PM.
“Anwar won’t have time to waste, there is an expectation that the pace of reform has to be faster than when PH was first in power in 2018. At the same time, the coalition has also learned to approach certain issues that touch on Malay sensitivity cautiously,” Zalkapli told Arab News.
As a popular and endearing figure both in the West and the Islamic world, the analyst added that Anwar “may also bring a lot more excitement to Malaysia’s foreign policy.”