KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Longtime reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim He was sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister on Thursday and vowed to heal the ethnically divided nation, fight corruption and revive an economy struggling with rising living costs.
It was a major victory for political reformers who have been locked in a battle with Malay nationalists for days after a separatist general election on Saturday produced a hung parliament. Anwar took his oath of office in a simple ceremony at the National Palace which was broadcast on national television.
Malaysia’s king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, has named Anwar as the country’s 10th leader, satisfied that Anwar is the candidate most likely to win majority support.
In his first press conference, Anwar said he would form a unity government with his Alliance of Hope winning 82 seats, the National Front with 30 seats and East Sarawak with 23 seats. He said they would get 135 seats and other smaller groups would join.
“There is no question about my legitimacy,” Anwar said after his rival, former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, disputed that he had majority support. Anwar said his government will move a confidence motion when Parliament reconvenes on December 19.
An unexpected surge in ethnic Malay support led Muhyiddin’s right-wing National Alliance to win 73 seats, with its ally the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party emerging as the largest party with 49 seats.
The impasse was resolved after the National Front, led by the United Malays National Organization, agreed to support the Anwar-led unity government. Such a build-up was once unthinkable in Malaysian politics dominated by rivalry between the two parties.
“His Majesty reminds all parties that winners do not win all and losers do not lose all,” the palace statement said. Sultan Abdullah called on all opposition parties to reconcile to ensure a stable government and end Malaysia’s political turmoil, which has led to three prime ministers since the 2018 election.
Stock markets and the Malaysian currency rallied after the news of Anwar’s appointment.
Police had tightened security across the country after social media posts warned of racial problems if Anwar’s multi-caste group won. Anwar’s party has urged supporters to stay away from festive gatherings to avoid the risk of provocation.
Anwar said his victory would bring new hope to Malaysians longing for a more just nation and assured the majority Malay Muslims that there was no reason to fear. Strengthening the economy will be his priority as he battles an expected recession and rising inflation next year, he said.
Many rural Malays fear they will lose their privileges with more pluralism under Anwar. Muhyiddin’s faction was chosen in Saturday’s vote by many fed up with corruption and infighting in the long-ruling UMNO.
“Malaysia is more than six decades old. Every Malaysian, regardless of ethnicity, religious beliefs or region, especially Sabah and Sarawak, should not feel that they are being neglected in any way. No one should be neglected in my administration,” he said. Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo are two of the poorest states in the country.
Anwar declared a public holiday on Monday to mark his group’s victory.
Anwar’s rise to the top ranks with his roller-coaster political journey and will ease fears of mass Islamization. But he faces a big task in reviving the economy as well as bridging ethnic divisions that have widened since Saturday’s vote. Malaysians make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, including large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
“Anwar is a globalist, who will convince international investors. He is seen as a bridge-builder across communities, which will test his leadership going forward but at the same time be a reassuring hand for Malaysia to face,” said Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia political expert at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia. .
In a statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Anwar, saying the US is eager to deepen its friendship with Malaysia.
Anwar, now 75, was a former deputy prime minister whose shootings and jailings led to mass street protests in the 1990s and a reform movement that became a major political force. Thursday marked the second victory for his reformist bloc – the first in a historic 2018 vote that led to the ouster of UMNO and the first regime change. Since Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957.
He said he was politically motivated after Anwar was accused of sexual assault while he was in jail at the time. He was pardoned and was to take over from Mahathir Mohamad. But the government collapsed after Muhyiddin defected and joined hands with UMNO to form a new government. Muhyiddin’s government was beset by internal hostility and he resigned after 17 months. UMNO leader Ismail Sabri Yacob was chosen by the king as Prime Minister.