Malaysia’s king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, announced today (Thursday) that Anwar Ibrahim would be the country’s 10th prime minister.
The swearing-in ceremony took place at 5 p.m. at the national palace (Istana Negara).
The king’s decision came after days of political negotiations following the November 19 election and a meeting at Istana Negara today between the king and his fellow rulers from nine of the country’s 13 states..
None of the parties or political groupings contesting the election won enough seats to secure a simple majority in parliament.
The role of the king (the Yang di-Pertuan Agong) is largely advisory, but, under Malaysia’s constitution, he has the power to appoint a prime minister who he considers has the support of a majority of legislators.
Since the election, Malaysians have watched politicians coming and going from Istana Negara and gathering in hotels to discuss potential political deals to achieve a majority.
While the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition (the Alliance of Hope) led by Anwar won the most seats (82) in the election, 112 seats are required for a simple majority in the 222-seat Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives).
Perikatan Nasional (PN; the National Alliance) won 73 seats. The Malaysian Islamic Party PAS, which is a member of the PN coalition, won 49 seats, the largest number won by an individual party.
Barisan Nasional (BN; the National Front) won only 30 seats. This is less than half the number it won in 2018, when the opposition was voted in for first time since independence.
There have been growing calls for BN chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to resign.
PN secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin said today that the coalition’s supreme council had agreed to consider the proposed establishment of a unity government that involved discussions with like-minded parties “for the well-being of the people and national stability”.
This is an about-turn. PN chairman and former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin had said earlier that he had declined the king’s proposal that PH and PN form a “unity” government.
A leaked letter from Ahmad Zahid, who is standing trial on corruption charges and pushed heavily for an early election to be held, indicated that all thirty BN MPs were now in favour of Anwar being appointed prime minister.
On Tuesday, caretaker prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is vice-president of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which is the leading party in Barisan Nasional, said BN had decided not to form a government with PN or PH and would remain in opposition.
However, there were reports yesterday evening that PH and BN may have come to an agreement on a governing formula. The New Straits Times reported that its journalists had seen a ten-point agreement proposed by PH to BN.
In the statement issued from Istana Negara today, the Comptroller of the Royal Household, Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin, said the king reminded all Dewan Rakyat members to work together to serve the people of Malaysia.
The king said the nation was an inheritance, which had been entrusted to its leaders, who needed to take care of it for the younger generation.
He said Malaysian citizens should not be burdened with endless political turmoil, Ahmad Fadil added.
The king said Malaysia needed a stable government “to stimulate the economic landscape and for development”, Ahmad Fadil said.
“Dewan Rakyat members who have been elected by the people are reminded to show solidarity by giving priority, high commitment, and their best service to the people,” he added.
Anwar tweeted that he would shoulder the task entrusted to him with utmost humility and responsibility.
Speaking at his first news conference as prime minister he said: “This is a national unity government. All are welcome. On condition you accept the fundamental rules of good governance, no corruption, and Malaysia for all Malaysians.”
Anwar said he would call for a vote of confidence to show his majority when parliament reconvenes on December 19.
He said that, in addition to the 82 PH MPs, he had the backing of thirty MPs from BN and 23 MPs from the Gabungan Parti Sarawak.
Anwar says his primary concern is the economy and that he will have a smaller Cabinet than those of previous administrations. He has indicated that there will be two deputy prime ministers – one from BN and one from one of the smaller political blocs on the island of Borneo.
He says he will not be taking a salary as prime minister.
Anwar’s daughter, Nurul Izzah, who was defeated in the Permatang Pauh constituency so is no longer an MP, said in a Facebook post that challenges still awaited: uniting fellow Malaysians, addressing the shackled economy, attracting investment, and building a nation in which true social justice was upheld.
“The legacy we leave for our children and future generations is not wealth, position or money, but idealism and the principles of struggle that cannot be bought,” Nurul Izzah said.
Anwar is now 75 years old and has been an activist since his student days. His path to the job of prime minister has been a tortuous one. He was deputy prime minister in the 1990s under Mahathir Mohamad, but was sacked from his post in the UMNO-led BN government in September 1998.
In 1999 Anwar was convicted of corruption and was sentenced to six years in prison. The following year he was convicted of sodomy and was sentenced to a further nine years.
In both cases, Anwar alleged that there was a political conspiracy against him. Amnesty International called him a prisoner of conscience.
Anwar was freed in 2004 after his conviction for sodomy was overturned, but he was charged with sodomy again in 2008.
He was acquitted by the High Court in 2012, but, in March 2014, just days before Anwar was due to contest the Kajang by-election, the Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal and imposed a five-year prison sentence.
Anwar appealed to the Federal Court, which, in February 2015, upheld the conviction and sentence.
In May 2018 he was eventually granted a royal pardon in the case of all three of his convictions on the basis that there had been a miscarriage of justice.
The request for a pardon was made by PH, which had defeated the ruling coalition in the opposition’s first general election win since Malaysia gained its independence from Britain in 1957.
Mahathir Mohamad, who spearheaded the opposition’s victory, indicated that he would hand over power to Anwar within two years, but the government collapsed in 2020 and a PN coalition led by Muhyiddin came into power.
Muhyiddin resigned on August 16, 2021, after losing majority support in parliament and four days later Ismail Sabri Yaakob was named as Malaysia’s ninth prime minister.
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