Anwar Ibrahim, former reformist leader, sworn in as Malaysian Prime Minister

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister on Thursday, in a victory for political reformers who spent days battling Malaysian nationalists after divisive general elections left a hung parliament.

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

Malaysia’s King Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah named 75-year-old Anwar the country’s 10th leader after saying he was convinced Anwar is the candidate most likely to be backed by a majority.

Anwar’s Alliance of Hope led Saturday’s election with 82 seats, short of the 112 needed for a majority. An unexpected wave of ethnic Malaysian support saw former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s right-leaning National Alliance win 73 seats, with its ally the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party becoming the largest party with 49 seats.

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

“His Royal Highness reminds all parties that the winners don’t win everything and the losers don’t lose everything,” the palace said in a statement. The monarch urged Anwar and his new government to be humble, saying all opposing sides should reconcile to ensure a stable government and end the political turmoil in Malaysia, which has been raging since the 2018 polls led to three prime ministers.

The statement gave no details about the government that would be formed.

Muhyiddin, 75, has refused to admit defeat. At a press conference, Muhyiddin challenged Anwar to prove that he has the majority of lawmakers to clear doubts about his leadership.

Police have tightened 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 making sensitive statements to avoid the risk of provocation.

Anwar’s rise to the top concludes his rollercoaster political journey and will allay fears of greater Islamization. But he faces the big task of bridging the racial divides that have deepened after Saturday’s poll, and 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 population of 33 million, including large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

“He will have to compromise with other actors in government, which means the reform process will be more inclusive,” said Bridget Welsh, a political expert on South East Asia. “Anwar is a globalist, that will assure international investors. He is seen as a bridge-builder between communities, which will test his leadership going forward, but at the same time lends a reassuring hand to the challenges Malaysia will face.

Anwar was a former deputy prime minister whose resignation and imprisonment in the 1990s sparked massive street protests and a reform movement that became a major political force. Thursday marked his reform bloc’s second victory – the first being the landmark 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 which he said was politically motivated. He was pardoned and would take over from Mahathir Mohamad. But the government collapsed after Muhyiddin defected and joined hands with UMNO to form a new government. Muhyiddin’s government was beset by internal rivalries and he resigned after 17 months. UMNO leader Ismail Sabri Yaakob was then chosen as prime minister by the king.

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

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