- World elections
Malaysian king names Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister, ending deadlock
Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia’s king names reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister, ending days of uncertainties after divisive general elections produced a hung parliament.
Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah said Anwar would be sworn in later on Thursday.
Anwar’s appointment caps a three-decade long political journey from a protégé of veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad to a prisoner convicted of sodomy, to opposition leader and, finally, prime minister.
Anwar’s Alliance of Hope led Saturday’s election with 82 seats, short of the 112 needed for a majority. The divisive ballot led to a hung parliament that renewed a leadership crisis in Malaysia, which has had three prime ministers since 2018. An unexpected surge of ethnic Malay support propelled former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s right-leaning National Alliance to win 72 seats, with its ally Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party emerging as the biggest single party with 49 seats.
The stalemate was resolved after the long-ruling bloc led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) agreed to support a unity government under Anwar. Such a tie-up was once unthinkable in Malaysian politics, long dominated by rivalry between the two parties. Other influential groups in Borneo island have said they will follow the king’s decision.
“His Royal Highness reminds all parties that the winners do not win all and the losers do not lose everything,” a palace statement read. The monarch urged Anwar and his new government to be humble, and said all opposing parties should reconcile to ensure a stable government and end Malaysia’s political turmoil, which has led to three prime ministers since 2018 polls.
The palace statement said the king was satisfied Anwar was the candidate likely to have majority support but didn’t give details of the new government.
The 75-year-old has time and again been denied the prime ministership despite getting within striking distance over the years: he was deputy prime minister in the 1990s and the official prime minister-in-waiting in 2018.
In between, he spent nearly a decade in jail for sodomy and corruption in what he says were politically motivated charges aimed at ending his career.
Police have tightened security nationwide as social media warned of racial troubles if Anwar’s multiethnic bloc won.
Anwar’s rise to the top will ease fears over greater Islamisation of the country. But he faces a tall task in bridging racial divides that deepened after Saturday’s poll, as well as reviving an economy struggling with rising inflation and a currency that has fallen to its weakest point.
Malays form two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, which include large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
“He will have to make compromises with other actors in the government that means that the reform process will be a more inclusive one,” said Bridget Welsh, a South-east Asia political expert.
“Anwar is a globalist, which will assure international investors. He has been seen to be a bridge builder across communities, which will test his leadership moving forward but at the same juncture offers a reassuring hand for the challenges that Malaysia will face.”
Anwar emerged victorious after other smaller blocs agreed to support him for a unity government.
The king met with royal families from nine states on Thursday to consult them on the deadlock. Malaysia’s hereditary state rulers – or sultans – who take turns as king every five years under a unique rotation system, are highly regarded by the Malay majority as the guardians of Islam and Malay tradition.
Short video platform TikTok said on Wednesday it was on high alert for content that violates its guidelines after authorities warned of a rise in ethnic tension on social media following the inconclusive election.
“We continue to be on high alert and will aggressively remove any violative content,” TikTok, which is owned by the China-based firm ByteDance, said then.
TikTok said it had been in contact with authorities on severe and repeat violations of its community guidelines since the lead-up to the election.
Muhyiddin was hoping to form a government that was a conservative, largely ethnic Malay, Muslim group.
It included the Islamist party PAS, which has advocated for a strict interpretation of sharia Islamic religious law. Its electoral gains have raised concerns in a country with significant ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian minorities, most of whom follow other faiths.
Ibrahim leads a group of more multiethnic, progressive parties that includes the Democratic Action Party, a predominantly ethnic Chinese party that has traditionally been unpopular with voters from the majority Malay community.
Social media users have reported numerous TikTok posts since the election that mentioned a riot in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, on May 13, 1969, in which about 200 people were killed, days after opposition parties supported by ethnic Chinese voters made inroads in an election.
TikTok said it had removed videos with May 13-related content that violated its community guidelines, saying it had “zero tolerance” for hate speech and violent extremism.
It declined to reveal the number of posts it removed or the number of complaints it had received.
Anwar’s reformist alliance won 2018 elections that led to the first regime change since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957. 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 picked by the king as the 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.
More to come