Long-time reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister Thursday and vowed to heal a racially divided nation, fight corruption and revive an economy struggling with the rising cost of living.
His rise to the top was a victory for political reformers locked in a battle with Malay nationalists for days after a divisive general election on Saturday produced a hung Parliament. Anwar took his oath of office in a simple ceremony at the national palace broadcast on national television.
Malaysia’s king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, named Anwar as the nation’s 10th leader after saying he was satisfied that Anwar was the candidate likely to have majority support.
In his first news conference, Anwar said he would form a unity government comprising his Alliance of Hope which won 82 seats, the National Front with 30 seats and a bloc from eastern Sarawak state with 23 seats. He said that would give him a majority of 135 seats, with other smaller blocs expected to join
“There is no question about my legitimacy,” Anwar said after his rival, former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, disputed that he has majority support. Anwar said his government would propose a vote of confidence when Parliament reconvenes on Dec. 19
An unexpected surge of ethnic Malay support propelled Muhyiddin’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 National Front, led by the United Malays National Organization, agreed to support a unity government under Anwar. Such a tie-up was once unthinkable in Malaysian politics, long dominated by the rivalry between the two parties.
“His Royal Highness reminds all parties that the winners do not win all and the losers do not lose everything,” a palace statement said. Sultan Abdullah urged all opposing parties to reconcile to ensure a stable government and end Malaysia’s political turmoil, which has led to three prime ministers since the 2018 polls.
The stock market and the Malaysian currency surged following news of Anwar’s appointment.
Police had tightened security nationwide as social media posts warned of racial troubles if Anwar’s multiethnic bloc won. Anwar’s party has urged supporters to refrain from celebratory gatherings to avoid the risk of provocation
Anwar said he wished his victory would bring new hope for Malaysians longing for a more equitable nation and assured most Malay Muslims that they have nothing to fear. He said his priority would be strengthening the economy as it faces an expected slowdown next year and fighting rising inflation.
Many rural Malays fear losing their privileges with greater pluralism under Anwar. Fed up with corruption and infighting in the long-ruling UMNO, many opted for Muhyiddin’s bloc in Saturday’s vote.
“Malaysia is more than six decades old. Every Malaysian, regardless of ethnicity, religious belief or region, particularly Sabah and Sarawak, should not be left to feel that they are ignored in any way. None should be marginalized under my administration,” he said. Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo Island are among two of the country’s poorest states
Anwar declared Monday a public holiday to mark his bloc’s victory.
Anwar’s rise to the top job caps his roller-coaster political journey and will ease fears over greater Islamization. But he faces a tall task in bridging racial divides that deepened after Saturday’s poll and reviving the economy. Malays form two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, which include large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities