Reformist Anwar Ibrahim sworn in as new Malaysian PM

The long-standing opposition leader took the oath of office at the national palace.

Anwar Ibrahim
Anwar Ibrahim

Long-standing Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been sworn in as the country’s new Prime Minister.

The ceremony marked a victory for political reformers locked in a battle with Malay nationalists for days after the divisive general election produced a hung parliament.

Broadcast live on national television, Mr Anwar took his oath of office on Thursday evening in a simple ceremony at the national palace.

Malaysia’s king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, named 75-year-old Mr Anwar as the nation’s 10th leader after saying he was satisfied that Mr Anwar is the candidate likely to have majority support.

The new leader’s Alliance of Hope bloc led Saturday’s election with 82 seats, short of the 112 needed for a majority.

The Malaysian PM takes an oath of office
Mr Anwar takes the oath of office (Pool via AP)

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-Malaysian Islamic Party emerging as the biggest single party with 49 seats.

The stalemate was resolved after the long-ruling bloc led by the United Malays National Organisation agreed to support a unity government under Mr Anwar.

Such a tie-up was once unthinkable in Malaysian politics, long dominated by rivalry between the two parties. Other influential groups in Borneo island have said they will follow the king’s decision.

Malaysia Anwar
The car carrying Mr Anwar arrives at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur (Pool via AP)

“His Royal Highness reminds all parties that the winners do not win all and the losers do not lose everything,” a palace statement read.

The monarch urged Mr Anwar and his new government to be humble, and said all opposing parties should reconcile to ensure a stable government and end Malaysia’s political turmoil, which has led to three prime ministers since 2018.

The statement gave no details on the government that will be formed.

Mr Muhyiddin, 75, has refused to concede defeat. At a news conference, he challenged Mr Anwar to prove that he has the majority support of legislators to deflect doubts over his leadership.

Malaysia Election
Anwar Ibrahim during a press conference in Subang, Malaysia (Vincent Thian/AP)

Police have tightened security nationwide as social media posts warned of racial troubles if Mr Anwar’s multi-ethnic bloc wins.

Mr Anwar’s party has urged supporters to refrain from celebratory gatherings or issuing sensitive statements to avoid risk of provocation.

His rise to the top caps his roller-coaster political journey and will ease fears over greater Islamisation. But he faces a tall task in bridging racial divides that deepened after Saturday’s poll, as well as reviving an economy struggling with rising inflation and a currency that has fallen to its weakest point.

Malays form two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, which include large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

Bridget Welsh, a south-east Asia political expert, said: “He will have to make compromises with other actors in the government that means that the reform process will be a more inclusive one.

“Anwar is a globalist, which will assure international investors. He has been seen to be a bridge builder across communities, which will test his leadership moving forward, but at the same juncture offers a reassuring hand for the challenges that Malaysia will face.”

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