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dated: 2022-11-25 07:59:11 .
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim has won a hard-fought battle to become Malaysia’s new prime minister. But working with former enemies to form a unity government while a polarized nation looks on will immediately test his political skills.
There is no honeymoon for Anwar, 75, who went straight to work less than 24 hours after being sworn in as the nation’s 10th leader.
Anwar was broadcast by national television on Friday morning in the capital Putrajaya. His first test will be cabinet building and portfolio allocation to install the various members of his unity government.
Anwar promised on Monday that his cabinet would be thinner compared to the previous over-sized government and said he would forego his salary as prime minister amid the country’s economic slowdown. He said that the new members of the government will also be asked to reduce their salaries.
“My main priority now is the cost of living,” he told a news conference.
Anwar has vowed to work quickly to find ways to help Malaysians struggling with rising food prices, the lowest currency in more than two decades and stagnant wages ahead of an expected economic slowdown next year.
Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope, won 82 seats out of 222 in the November 19 general election. To achieve a majority, he won the support of two key rival blocs: the long-ruling National Front with 30 seats and the Sarawak Alliance of Parties with 23. Several smaller blocs have also announced they will join.
The pro-Malay National Alliance of former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yasin unexpectedly won 73 seats. Muhyiddin’s staunch ally, the pro-Sharia Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, became the country’s largest single party with 49 seats, indicating the rise of conservative Islam.
Anwar’s victory, backed by political rivals, marked another “watershed moment that ushered in a new era of Malaysian democracy,” said Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, a political analyst at the University of Science Malaysia.
It came on the back of his alliance’s landslide electoral victory in the 2018 election, which ended the Front National’s 60-year grip on power and ushered in the country’s first regime change since independence from Britain in 1957 prime ministers. Anwar was in prison at the time for sodomy, which he said was politically motivated.
Anwar has maintained a conciliatory tone since his appointment, welcoming all parties into his government as long as they adhere to the principles of good governance, no corruption and a “Malaysia for all Malaysians”.
Analysts say the makeup of his cabinet will provide a clearer picture of his future policies as he makes good on his campaign promise to clean up the government and heal deepening racial and religious wounds. His anti-corruption platform is being tested amid fears that some National Front leaders fighting bribery allegations will be offered concessions in exchange for their support.
An ethnic Muslim, Anwar must also earn the trust of conservative Malays, who saw him as too liberal and sided with Muhyiddin’s right-wing bloc in the disputed election. Police have stepped up security and Anwar’s supporters have been ordered to refrain from celebrations that could provoke Islamic supporters.
In such a racially charged environment, Anwar’s goals – including replacing a decades-old action plan that gives Malays privileges in jobs, education and housing – can be a minefield.
Anwar assured the Malays that their constitutional rights and the status of Islam as the national religion would be protected. But he emphasized that other races must not be marginalized in order to unite the country.
“Since independence, there has been racial segregation in Malaysia,” said political scientist Ahmad Fauzi.
“Anwar will develop his own formula to contain the problem, but to think he can wipe it out is to expect the impossible from him,” he added.
Eileen Ng, The Associated Press
The campaign is won, the real test for the new Malaysian prime minister begins
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