The King of Malaysia appoints reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim as Prime Minister

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s king on Thursday appointed reformist opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim as the country’s prime minister, ending days of uncertainty after a divisive general election led to a deadlocked parliament.

Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah said Anwar, 75, would be sworn in as the nation’s 10th leader at the palace at 17:00 (09:00 GMT) at the palace.

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 propelled former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s right-wing National Alliance to 73 seats, with its ally the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party emerging as the single largest party with 49 seats.

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

“His Royal Highness reminds all parties that winners do not win everything and losers do not lose everything,” the palace said in a statement. The monarch called on Anwar and his new government to be humble and said all opposition parties must reconcile to ensure a stable government and end Malaysia’s political turmoil that has seen three prime ministers since the 2018 election.

The palace statement said the king was satisfied that Anwar was the candidate likely to have majority support, but gave no details on the new government.

Police tightened security across the country as social media warned of racial problems if Anwar’s multi-ethnic bloc won. Anwar’s party urged supporters to refrain from festive gatherings or issuing sensitive statements to avoid the risk of provocation.

Anwar’s rise to the top ends his political rollercoaster ride and will ease fears of greater Islamization. But he faces an uphill task in bridging racial divisions that have deepened since Saturday’s election, as well as reviving an economy struggling with rising inflation and a currency that has sunk to its lowest point. Malays make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s population of 33 million, which includes 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 more inclusive,” said Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia political expert. “Anwar is a globalist, which will reassure international investors. He is seen as a bridge-builder between communities, which will test his leadership but at the same time offer a reassuring hand for the challenges Malaysia will face.”

Anwar was a former deputy prime minister whose dismissal and imprisonment in the 1990s led to mass street protests and a reform movement that became a major political force. It marked a second victory for his reformist bloc on Thursday after the historic 2018 election that saw the first regime change since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.

At the time, Anwar was in prison on a sodomy charge that he said was politically motivated. He was pardoned and was to take over from Mahathir Mohamad. But the government collapsed after Muhyiddin defected and joined forces with UMNO to form a new government. Muhyiddin’s government was beset by internal rivalries and he resigned after 17 months. Then UMNO leader Ismail Sabri Yacob was chosen by the king as Prime Minister.

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

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