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Anwar Ibrahim to be next prime minister of Malaysia

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was named prime minister on Thursday, ending days of political impasse following inconclusive election results.

His ascension will bring to an end Anwar’s turbulent political life – which has not only propelled him into the corridors of power but also landed him in a prison cell on charges of corruption and sodomy.

“After considering the views of Their Royal Highnesses the Rulers of Malaysia, His Majesty has agreed to appoint Anwar Ibrahim as the tenth Prime Minister of Malaysia,” said a statement from the palace of King Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah.

In the capital, Kuala Lumpur, Anwar’s supporters were in a festive mood.

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“I got goosebumps, seriously,” said 36-year-old Norhafitzah Ashruff Hassan.

“He fought hard to get a chance to be prime minister. I hope he performs well and proves his worth,” he added.

“I can’t put into words the ecstatic feeling I have,” said Muhammad Taufiq Zamri, a 37-year-old product manager.

He said: “There is a sense of optimism flowing now and I believe Anwar will lead the country forward.”

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Anwar’s multi-ethnic coalition Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) won the most seats in the weekend election, following an anti-graft report.

However, its total number of 82 seats was not enough for the 112 needed for a majority.

The king summoned Anwar and former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin – whose Perikatan National Bloc won 73 seats – in an attempt to break the deadlock, but no agreement was reached.

A ride on a roller coaster

For Anwar, the premiere is the culmination of a 25-year rollercoaster ride.

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The fiery former student activist was close to power in the late 1990s as Mahathir Mohamad’s finance chief and deputy prime minister.

But the two clashed bitterly over how to handle the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98.

Mahathir fired his former protégé, who was also expelled from their then United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party and accused of corruption and sodomy.

Anwar was sentenced to six years in prison for corruption in 1999, with a further nine years added the following year for sodomy charges; two sentences run consecutively.

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When he claimed he was being politically persecuted, street protests erupted and evolved into a movement for democratic reforms.

The fight between Mahathir and Anwar has dominated and shaped Malaysian politics for the past four decades and, according to Oh Ei Sun of the Malaysian Pacific Research Centre, “has alternately brought despair and hope, progress and regression to the country’s polity”.

The Malaysian Supreme Court overturned Anwar’s sodomy conviction in 2004 and ordered his release.

A long time is coming

Anwar aligned himself with Mahathir during the 2018 election, when his former tormentor came out of retirement to challenge incumbent Najib Razak, who was mired in the billion-dollar 1MDB financial scandal.

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Their alliance scored a historic victory against UMNO and Najib, who is now serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption.

Mahathir became prime minister for the second time with an agreement to hand over the premiership to Anwar later.

He never fulfilled that pact and their alliance collapsed after 22 months.

“It’s been a long time coming for Anwar Ibrahim,” Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, deputy managing director of strategic consultancy Bower Group Asia, told AFP.

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“One of his agendas is to ensure that he is able to deliver on his reform agenda as he seeks to stabilize the loosely cobbled federal coalition,” he continued.

James Chin, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania, told AFP the announcement “will be welcomed internationally because Anwar is known worldwide as a Muslim democrat”.

“His biggest challenge will be to lead Malaysia out of economic turmoil after the pandemic,” the professor added.

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