Veteran opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is set to be appointed as Malaysia’s new prime minister, after days of deadlock following an election last Saturday.
Anwar, 75, is due to be sworn in at 5pm local time (09:00 GMT) by King Sultan Abdullah, who said he had hoped to see the creation of a national unity government after the poll resulted in a hung parliament.
Anwar’s Pakistan Harapan party won 81 seats in the election – the biggest share of seats – but did not have the 112 seats required to form a government.
Over the past five days Anwar and former PM Muhyiddin Yassin, whose party won 73 seats, the second biggest tally, have been trying to get enough seats from the rival United Malays National Organization (UNMO) party to take power.
But that desire appeared to initially be stymied by UMNO powerbrokers entangled in graft accusations and hopes by some Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs to form a government with Muhyiddin.
However, a key bloc from BN has allegedly said they will support Anwar to form a unity government, instead of Muhyiddin, who led a pro-Malay, Islamist alliance known as Perikatan Nasional.
Jail, Najib and 1MDB
Anwar first served as Malaysia’s deputy prime minister in the 1990s under long-running leader Mahathir Mohamad, but his career was derailed by two sodomy convictions – charges he claimed were politically motivated – that led to him serving a decade in jail.
In 2004, a year after Mahathir stepped down, Malaysia’s Supreme Court overturned Anwar’s sodomy conviction and freed him from jail.
But in a stunning turn of events in 2018, Anwar partnered with his former nemesis, the elderly Mahathir, to defeat the Barisan Nasional alliance led by the UNMO party in an election dominated by allegations of massive graft in the 1MDB scandal centered on PM Najib Razak.
However, in 2020, the Mahathir-Anwar coalition collapsed, and was replaced by a coalition led by Muhyiddin from March 2020 through the Covid-19 pandemic until he lost a parliamentary vote of support in August 2021.
Muhyiddin was followed by UNMO vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who held power till last Saturday, when his party performed dismally.
Anwar’s appointment at Malaysia 10th prime minister is the culmination of a long quest to become national leader.
But the road ahead looks rocky given he will lead a minority government that needs support from at least 20 MPs from Barisan Nasional.
Analysts have warned that any coalition that relies on support from BN is likely to be unstable because of issues within the party affecting its leadership.
However, a coalition led by Anwar will at least to be more appealing to foreign investors, because of the ultra-conservative and potentially divisive faction within Muhyiddin’s coalition.
- Jim Pollard