Anwar Ibrahim appointed Malaysia’s 10th Prime Minister

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SINGAPORE — The wait is over. And it’s a comeback.

Nearly a week after Malaysia’s general election resulted in a hung parliament, longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim appears to have won enough cross-party support to form the Southeast Asian country’s government and fend off the rise of more conservative political forces — in every fall for now.

The appointment of Anwar as prime minister on Thursday brought a temporary end to a chaotic election season in which the political titan has fallen. Mahathir Mohamadsurprising gains by a far-right Islamic party and endless fighting between supposed allies, largely caused by conviction of disgraced former prime minister Najib Razak accused of money laundering and abuse of power.

After consulting with state-level rulers earlier in the day, Malaysia’s king approved the appointment of Anwar as the country’s 10th prime minister, Istana Negara, the monarch’s seat, said in a statement Thursday afternoon. In Malaysia, a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy, the king formally appoints the head of government.

The announcement marks a dramatic comeback for Anwar, 75. He founded the country’s Reformasi political movement, which has fought for social justice and equality since the 1990s. He is also known as a supporter of Muslim democracy and has previously confessed his admiration for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which was once seen as a moderate Democrat. Islam is the state religion of Muslim-majority Malaysia, which has significant economic and security ties to the United States, but other religions are widely practiced.

This Malaysian politician was imprisoned and condemned. He is now on the brink of power.

A former deputy of Mahathir, later regarded as his bitter rival, Anwar strove for decades to reach the country’s top political post, along the way earning the support and friendship of international leaders such as former US Vice President Al Gore.

He also served two lengthy prison terms for sodomy and corruption – convictions that Anwar and his supporters say were politically motivated.

Anwar’s multi-ethnic reformist coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), or Alliance of Hope, won 82 seats after last week’s election. The Alliance was the largest single bloc, but also several dozen seats short of the 112 it needed to form a majority. It ran against Perikatan Nasional (PN), a right-wing coalition that won 73 seats, to convince voters – as well as the country’s monarch, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah – that it has the mandate to form the next government.

Anwar’s accession was made possible after Barisan Nasional, a conservative coalition that has ruled Malaysia for most of its post-independence history, said it would not participate in a PN-led government. Barisan Nasional won 30 seats in the latest polls, putting it in a king position.

While Anwar may have emerged triumphant, he now faces the steep challenge of uniting the country’s divided electorate, analysts say.

Anwar opposes the race-based policies of affirmative action that were a hallmark of previous Barisan Nasional-led governments. The policy, which favors Malaysian Muslims, is seen by some analysts as having created a broad-based middle class in the country of 32.5 million. But critics blame the laws for stoking racial animosity, driving young people from Malaysia’s Indian and Chinese minorities out of the country and creating systemic corruption.

In the run-up to the election, PN leader and former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin made the anti-Semitic claim that Anwar’s coalition was working with Jews and Christians to “Christians“Malaysia.

Council of Churches of Malaysia condemned Muhyiddin’s remarks. Anwar also criticized his rival’s comments as desperate. “I urge Muhyiddin to be a mature leader and not use racial propaganda to divide the plural reality of Malaysia,” he said on Twitter.

Regardless of whether they supported him, Anwar’s appointment allows Malaysians to put an end to two years of political turmoil that included the resignation of two prime ministers, claims of a power grab and a snap election held in the middle of the tropical country’s monsoon season.

“We have been waiting for some stability, for democracy to be restored, for a while,” said Adrian Pereira, a labor rights activist from the western state of Selangor. Voters are still anxious to see what coalition Anwar has built and how power-sharing will work, “but for now it’s kind of a relief for everybody,” he said.

Rafizi Ramli, deputy leader of Anwar’s party, said on Thursday that the new prime minister will lead a “unity government”.

“We all need to move forward and learn to work together to rebuild Malaysia,” he added a declaration who also urged Malaysians to ease political tensions by avoiding “provocative” messages or gatherings.

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Among the biggest surprises of the election was the surge in support for the Malaysian Islamic Party, known as PAS, which more than doubled its seats in parliament from 18 to 49. The party, which ran as part of Muhyiddin’s PN, favors eventual Islamic rule in Malaysia and has emerged as a power broker in recent years, forming partnerships with other parties that support pro-Malaysian-Muslim policies.

While Anwar’s coalition will govern, PAS will be the single largest party in the lower house of parliament.

James Chin, a University of Tasmania professor who studies Malaysian politics, said he was “relieved” by the success of PAS, which he sees as reflecting a wider rise of political Islam in Malaysia.

While the country, along with neighboring Indonesia, has long touted itself as moderate Islamic nations, this may be changing, Chin said. PAS made its strongest gains in rural areas, he noted, and there is early evidence that it was gaining support from new voters, including young Malaysians. Liberal and non-Malay Muslim voters now worry that a strengthened PAS is positioned to expand its influence, including over the country’s education policy.

“I knew PAS had a lot of support in the Malay heartland … but I still didn’t know they could expand so quickly,” Chin said. “Nobody did.”

Ang reported from Seoul and Ding reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Hari Raj in Seoul contributed to this report.

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