Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim finally has his day, more than 20 years after his spectacular deposition from office and incarceration. Following tumultuous parliamentary elections that left a hung Parliament, Anwar defeated a Malay nationalist leader to be proclaimed Malaysia’s 10th prime minister on Thursday.
Anwar, a former deputy prime minister whose dismissal and imprisonment in the 1990s sparked widespread street protests and a reform movement that grew into a significant political force, now serves as prime minister, capping his turbulent political path. It is a second triumph for his reformist bloc, which won the 2018 elections but was ousted from office 22 months later as a result of a tussle for control that has continued political unrest.
After no party secured a clear majority, last Saturday’s election, which was intended to put an end to the unrest that had produced three prime ministers since 2018, instead created new uncertainty. With 82 seats, Anwar’s multiethnic Alliance of Hope was in the lead but fell short of the majority-required 112 seats. The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, Muhyiddin’s ally, emerged as the largest single party with 49 seats, helping Muhyiddin’s right-leaning National Alliance win 73 seats.
Anwar won after smaller blocs decided to support him in forming a unity government. He still has a difficult task ahead of him in bridging racial gaps that widened following Saturday’s election and rebuilding an economy beset by increasing inflation and a currency that has reached its lowest point. Two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million inhabitants, including sizable ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, are Malaysians.
According to Ei Sun Oh at Singapore’s Institute of International Affairs, “Anwar’s political struggle is on a par with (South Africa’s) Nelson Mandela, as both underwent several persecutions in the course of democratising their countries.” With Anwar in control, it is believed that Malaysia would return to a more open and inclusive society and economy, which will hopefully recover its reputation on the international stage.