After waiting for decades to become prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim was finally sworn in as Malaysia’s 10th prime minister today (November 24).
It has been a highly eventful struggle and may not be smooth sailing going forward either.
During these years he faced corruption and sodomy charges that most people saw as politically motivated.
He suffered two bouts of imprisonment totalling 10 years.
In the first, he was beaten up and suffered a black eye.
It is widely believed to have been caused during an assault by the chief of police.
All this is now behind him.
Since no political party or coalition won the requisite 112 seats in Malaysia’s 222-seat parliament (Dewan Rekyat), there was intense jockeying for power.
Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance (alliance of hope), won 82 seats, well short of the minimum number required to form the government.
Its nearest rival was the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition led by former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin which secured 73 seats.
The Barisan Nasional (BN) that had dominated Malaysian politics for 60 years was virtually decimated getting only 30 seats.
Both Anwar and Muhyiddin claimed to have the support of enough MPs to form the next government and hence should be the prime minister.
The matter ended up with the Malaysian king, Sultan Abdullah. He met Anwar and Muhyiddin separately, as well as the newly elected members of parliament to ascertain their views about who should be the next prime minister.
Both leaders were asked to provide statutory declarations from MPs in support of their claim.
The first deadline of November 22 passed without resolution.
Then after a meeting of the royal households today, the king announced Anwar as the leader.
The king said he was convinced Anwar had the support of the majority in Malaysia’s 222-member parliament.
There was a caveat, however.
The king said there are “no absolute winners and no absolute losers,” and urged all politicians to work together for the benefit of the country.
Immediately after Anwar was sworn in as prime minister, ex-prime minister Muhyiddin said he had to prove his support through a vote of confidence in parliament.
Further, he has become prime minister with the support of Barisan Nasional, the coalition he had criticized throughout the election campaign for corruption.
For Anwar, often derided as Malaysia’s permanent prime minister-in-waiting, it has been an eventful journey.
The man who blocked his access to the top political post was none other than Mahathir Mohamad, under whom he had served as finance minister as well as deputy prime minister.
In what some might interpret as poetic justice, Mahathir, now 97, not only lost his seat but also his deposit in the November 19 elections.
Will Anwar be able to serve his full term?
Coalition politics are quite problematic.
Over the last two years, Malaysia has had four prime ministers.
Following his swearing-in ceremony, Anwar said he would shoulder the duties entrusted to him with “utmost humility”.
“With my team, I will carry out this heavy responsibility based on the people’s aspirations,” he said in a Twitter post.
In an interesting development, the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) won 49 seats, making it the largest single party in parliament.
It broke out of its traditional support base and gained seats in other parts of the country as well.
It is part of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) led by Muhyiddin.
The Washington Post lamented PAS’ rise and speculated that it would deepen divisions in society.
The well-informed Malaysia journalist, Abdar Rahman Koya writing in MalaysiaNow, described Anwar’s victory as “pyrrhic”.
Abdar Rahman argued that “when he [Anwar] was sacked in 1998, his Islamic credentials and the impact on UMNO [the ruling coalition led by Mahathir Mohammad] were put to the test. True enough, a large section of Malays were disenchanted with the government, as shown in the election a year later, which marked the start of PAS’s return to mainstream politics.”
Abdar Rahman further writes that “it is ironic that the man who was brought in the government to ramp up Malay support for the ruling party is now denied that from the very same community.”
For now, Anwar’s supporters are ecstatic but it will be interesting to see how he fares as prime minister.
Given the fragile support base he enjoys at present, it may prove quite challenging.