Veteran Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim has begun work as the new prime minister of Malaysia, with a promise to unite the country that is divided across ethnic and religious lines. The 75-year-old, who resumed work on Friday morning, took the oath of office in the presence of the country’s Monarch, King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, on Thursday despite his party not winning a clear majority in Parliament.
In a press conference held on Thursday night, the new prime minister promised to protect the rights of every Malaysian, including the ordinary, marginalised and impoverished, not minding their race or religion.
“We will never compromise on good governance, the anti-corruption drive, judicial independence and the welfare of ordinary Malaysians,” Anwar Ibrahim said at the press conference, adding that he would not draw a salary during his time as leader of the Malaysian government.
A prime minister without a clear majority
The Malaysian parliament has a total of 222 seats. For a party to have the majority of seats, it needs at least 112 seats. However, after last weekend’s election, none of the coalitions reached the threshold.
Anwar’s alliance got the highest number of seats, with 82 seats, which was 30 seats short of the 112 majority. Myhyiddin’s National Alliance won 73 seats, while the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) won 49 seats.
With no clear winner in the race, King Sultan Abdullah met with several lawmakers to seek their opinions on who they preferred as the country’s leader. At the end of the meetings, the Monarch made it clear in a statement that there was “no absolute winner and no absolute losers.” However, based on the outcome of the meetings, Mr Anwar Ibrahim was pronounced prime minister.
Although Anwar is expected to run a fragile government, he insisted that his party had the majority needed to form a government.
“We have a truly convincing majority,” Anwar said Thursday night. The new prime minister had managed to ally with smaller blocs to form a unity government. The so-called majority will be tested when parliament seats next month for the first time.
Anwar’s rocky path to leadership
When Anwar began his political career in the 70s, many thought he would become the country’s leader as soon as possible. He quickly rose to the ranks of deputy prime minister and finance minister in the 1990s, hoping he would become the next prime minister after Mahathir Mohamad.
Unfortunately, there was a fallout between Anwar and then-Prime minister Mahathir Mohamad following how Malaysia responded to the Asian economic crisis. Anwar was sacked in 1998, but his ordeal did not end there. He was detained without trial before he was later charged with sodomy and corruption. Many, including Amnesty International, considered the charges to be politically motivated.
Malaysia’s supreme court later overturned Anwar’s conviction in 2004, leading to his release that same year. In 2015, he was arrested again for sodomy after his return to politics. Many believed his rearrest was orchestrated to weaken his alliance, threatening the UMNO-led government.
Despite being in prison, Anwar sustained his political influence and formed an alliance with Mahathir. The alliance brought about a shocking election victory in 2018, which produced 92-year-old Mahathir as the world’s oldest leader.
Although the government lasted for less than two years, it pardoned Anwar, giving him the chance to return to the political scene on a full-time basis. Many said his almost 30 years before finally becoming prime minister can be compared to that of Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, who spent 27 years in prison before coming out to become the first black president of the country.
During his campaign, he promised to fight racial imbalance, religious sentiments, and the massive corruption in the country.
Many congratulations to the new leader
Since Mr Anwar’s pronouncement as the new prime minister of Malaysia, world leaders have been sending congratulatory messages to him with the hope that his government would cooperate with them.
“I would like to congratulate my good friend [Anwar Ibrahim] for his election as Prime Minister of Malaysia. I look forward to the stability that his leadership will provide Malaysia and the region,” Bongbong Marcos, president of the Philipines, wrote on Twitter. “My personal and official congratulations.”
“Congratulations Dato’ Seri [Anwar Ibrahim] on your election as the Prime Minister of Malaysia. I look forward to working closely together to further strengthen India-Malaysia Enhanced Strategic Partnership,” Indian Prime minister, Narendra Modi, wrote.
Anthony Blinken wrote: “Congratulations to the people of Malaysia on their national elections and to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. We look forward to strengthening our comprehensive partnership and advancing a more sustainable, secure, inclusive, and prosperous Malaysia and Indo-Pacific.”
Anwar Ibrahim is now faced with the challenge of managing a government without an absolute majority and uniting a nation of people with different ideologies. Hopefully, his coalition will survive the test of time.