Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim began serving as Prime Minister of Malaysia after promising to lead an inclusive government in the multi-ethnic and multi-faith Southeast Asian nation.
Anwar arrived at the prime minister’s office in the administrative capital Putrajaya on Friday at 9 am (01:00 GMT), after being sworn in by the king the day before.
In his first news conference Thursday night, the 75-year-old veteran politician laid out his plans for the country.
He said that he would not take a salary and that his government would “guarantee and protect the rights of all Malaysians, especially the marginalized and the poor, regardless of race or religion”.
He also stressed the importance of reform.
“We will never compromise on good governance, the anti-corruption campaign, the independence of the judiciary and the welfare of ordinary Malaysians,” he said at the late-night event.
King Anwar appointed him prime minister after an inconclusive election last Saturday left his Pakatan Harapan coalition with the largest number of seats but short of the majority needed to govern. PH will rule the country in alliance with Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), the main party in Sarawak state in Malaysian Borneo, and Barisan Nasional (BN), the alliance that dominated Malaysian politics until 2018 when it first lost power amid a multibillion-dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB .
Early in his Thursday night press conference, Anwar received a congratulatory call from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after sharing a video on social media of him speaking with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the first foreign leader to congratulate them. Anwar described Indonesia as Malaysia’s “true friend” and said he would focus on strengthening relations between the two countries.
The Secretary of State of the United States, Anthony Blinken, also extended his congratulations to Anwar and the people of Malaysia, noting the record number of votes cast in the election,
“We look forward to deepening our friendship and cooperation based on shared democratic principles and respect for human rights and the rule of law,” Blinken said. “We remain committed to working with Malaysia to advance a free, open, connected, prosperous, secure and resilient Indo-Pacific.”
Anwar’s appointment as Prime Minister came to seal a momentous political journey for the man born in the northern state of Penang in 1947. After making his mark as a turbulent student activist, young Anwar was lured into joining the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the dominant party in the then ruling National Front coalition. , as he rapidly rose through the ranks.
His sudden dismissal in 1998 and subsequent imprisonment on charges of corruption and sodomy sparked political opposition in Malaysia, fueled calls for reform – known as “reform” – and contributed to a gradual realignment of the country’s politics. Anwar underwent a second trial and conviction for sodomy before being pardoned in 2018 and released from prison.
“Only a man like Anwar can embody the contradictions of Malaysia and turn the country into a new page in history,” said James Chai, visiting fellow in the Malaysian Studies Program at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. Many would argue that it is exactly what the nation needs. The Reformacy generation can breathe a sigh of relief after years of despair.”
And Anwar’s government is the second of the reformist coalition after the collapse of his last administration amid a retreat by the conservatives of Malay origin after only 22 months. The country has been in a state of instability ever since with two prime ministers having been in power for many years.
Anwar appears keen to draw a line on the political maneuvering and says a vote of confidence to show the strength of the new coalition will be the first item on the agenda when Parliament convenes for the first time on December 19.
“We have a really convincing majority,” he said, adding at a press conference on Friday that it amounted to two-thirds of the parliament’s total 222 seats. A majority of this size would give the coalition the power to change the constitution.
Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who led the Brekatan National Alliance, which has also tried to form a government after the hung parliament, on Friday congratulated Anwar on his appointment.
He said in a statement that the PN will play a “check-and-balance role” in parliament.
The conservative alliance received the second highest number of votes in the election with the Malaysian Islamic party, PAS, winning the most seats among its members and emerging as the largest single party in Parliament.
On Thursday, the leader of the National Labor Party urged Anwar to “prove” his majority.
However, Muhyiddin himself did not hold a parliamentary vote after the king named him prime minister in 2020 when a power struggle within the PH coalition led to its collapse.
Muhyiddin was part of the PH government, but with other politicians he jumped. He only survived in office for 17 months before he was brought down by politics – and replaced by UMNO’s Ismail Sabri Yacoub.
Ismail Sabri held the position for just over a year before elections were called for November, under pressure from factions within his party.
To ensure the continuity of his administration, analysts said it was crucial that Anwar learn the lessons of the first PH government and build confidence.
“A lot will depend on who he appoints to his cabinet and whether they can work together,” said Bridget Welch. “There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the first Pakatan Harapan government in terms of building trust, managing expectations and communications. These are the things that will be the challenge in the future.”
He stressed again in a press conference on Friday that he would reduce the size of the government, which has ballooned to nearly 70 ministers and deputy ministers in recent years. Wells said it was crucial that appointees have competence and experience given the challenges facing Malaysia, and that this also reflects the social and economic reality of Malaysia and its youth.
The country is predominantly Muslim of Malay descent and Islam is the official religion but there are large minorities of ethnic Chinese and Indians, as well as indigenous people.
Race and religion have always been sensitive issues in the country, and tensions arose during the two-week election campaign, with police this week warning Malaysians not to post “provocative” content.
Gerald Joseph, Malaysia’s human rights commissioner until earlier this year and a long-time campaigner for democracy, said he welcomed the potential for Malaysia to open a new chapter, noting that several recent reforms, such as lowering the voting age and automatic voter registration under the Ph.D. 2018.
He added that the new prime minister should focus on parliament reforms, including ensuring the appointment of an impartial speaker and empowering specialized committees.
“Anwar has to prove himself like any other prime minister,” Joseph told Al Jazeera. “He has to work on reform. He has to make governance work.”
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