Long-time reformist leader Anwar has been sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister Thursday in a victory for political reformers locked in a battle with Malaysian nationalists for days after divisive general elections created a hung parliament.

Broadcast live on national television, Anwar took his oath of office on Thursday night in a simple ceremony at the National Palace.

Malaysia’s king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, appointed Anwar, 75, as the country’s 10th leader after saying he was satisfied that Anwar is the candidate likely to have majority support.

Anwar’s Alliance of Hope led Saturday’s election with 82 seats, short of the 112 needed for a majority. An unexpected surge in ethnic Malay support saw former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s right-wing National Alliance win 73 seats, with its ally the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party emerging as the single largest party with 49 seats.

The impasse was resolved after the long-ruling bloc led by the United Malays National Organization agreed to support a unity government under Anwar. Such a bond was once unthinkable in Malaysian politics, long dominated by rivalry between the two parties. Other influential groups on the island of Borneo have said they will follow the king’s decision.

“His Royal Highness reminds all parties that winners do not win all and losers do not lose all,” a palace statement read. The monarch urged Anwar and his new government to be humble, saying all rival parties should reconcile to ensure a stable government and end Malaysia’s political turmoil, which has seen three prime ministers since the 2018 polls.

The statement did not give any details about the government that will be formed.

Muhyiddin, 75, has refused to accept defeat. In a press conference, Muhyiddin challenged Anwar to prove he has the majority support of lawmakers to deflect doubts about his leadership.

Police have stepped up security across the country as social media posts warned of racial problems if Anwar’s multi-ethnic bloc wins. Anwar’s party has urged supporters to refrain from celebratory gatherings or issuing sensitive statements to avoid the risk of provocation.

Anwar’s rise to the top ends his political roller-coaster ride and will ease fears of greater Islamization. But he faces a big 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 make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, which include large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

“He will have to make compromises with other actors in the government, which means the reform process will be a more inclusive one,” said Bridget Welsh, a political expert on Southeast Asia. “Anwar is a globalist, which will reassure international investors. He has been seen as a bridge-builder across communities, which will test his leadership going forward, but also lend a reassuring hand to the challenges that Malaysia will face.”

Anwar was a former deputy prime minister whose sacking and imprisonment in the 1990s led to massive street protests and a reform movement that became a major political force. Thursday marked his reformist bloc’s second victory – it was the first historic 2018 polls that led to the first regime change since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.

Anwar was in prison at the time on a sodomy charge that he said was politically motivated. He was pardoned and was supposed to take over from Mahathir Mohamad. But the government collapsed after Muhyiddin defected and joined with UMNO to form a new government. Muhyiddin’s government was plagued by internal rivalries and he resigned after 17 months. UMNO leader Ismail Sabri Yaakob was then chosen by the king as prime minister.

Many rural Malays fear they may lose their privileges with greater pluralism under Anwar. Many, fed up with corruption and infighting in UMNO, chose Muhyiddin’s bloc in Saturday’s vote.

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