In Malaysia, reformist Anwar Ibrahim becomes prime minister

Anwar Ibrahim Anwar, who was until now the main leader of the opposition, has been appointed “tenth prime minister of Malaysia”, the Royal Palace said in a statement. He was to take the oath this Thursday at 5 p.m. At the age of 75, he thus realized his dream of becoming Prime Minister, which he had cherished for a quarter of a century and which crowned a turbulent political career.

Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope), the multi-ethnic reformist coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim Anwar, achieved the best result in Saturday’s legislative elections with 82 seats. But it remains far from an absolute majority, in a parliament of 222 seats.

The waltz of governments

The King of Malaysia, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, yesterday summoned to the Anwar Palace Ibrahim Anwar and the former Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin – whose formation Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance) came second in the elections with 73 seats. According to Muhyiddin Yassin, the ruler had asked the two men to form a “unity government.”

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Perikatan Nasional is backed by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which advocates strict application of Sharia law. Anwar Ibrahim also began negotiations on Monday with the party that has been in power until now, Barisan Nasional. Led by the Malaysian Unified National Organization (UMNO), this formation came far behind with 30 seats, its worst electoral result since the country’s independence in 1957. The King of Malaysia has the discretionary power to appoint a prime minister whom he think he has the support of the majority of MPs.

Malaysia, predominantly Muslim but also including significant Chinese and Indian minorities, is a constitutional monarchy with a unique system of throne rotation every five years among the rulers of Malaysia’s nine states. For four years, the country has been shaken by political turbulence and a waltz of governments, which has led to three prime ministers succeeding each other in four years.

After more than sixty years in power, UMNO was heavily sanctioned at the ballot box and ousted from power in 2018, marking the first alternation in the country’s history. The then Prime Minister Najib Razak, implicated in the embezzlement of several billion dollars from the sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, is currently serving a twelve-year prison sentence.

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UMNO had returned to power with a narrow majority in 2021. Hoping to strengthen its grip on power, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob dissolved parliament and called snap elections, originally scheduled for September 2023. But UMNO still suffers from its association with the vast corruption case 1MDB, a fund that was supposed to contribute to the development of the country.

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