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Electoral battle won, the real test begins for the new Malaysian Prime Minister

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — Reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim has won an uphill battle to become Malaysia’s new prime minister. But working with former enemies to form a unity government as a polarized nation watches will immediately test his political mettle.

There is no honeymoon period for Anwar, 75, who went to work less than 24 hours after being sworn in as the country’s 10th leader.

National television showed Anwar clocking in on Friday morning in Putrajaya, the government’s administrative capital. His first test will be the constitution of a Cabinet and the allocation of portfolios to appease the various members of his unity government.

Anwar vowed on Monday his cabinet would be leaner compared to the oversized and previous administration, and said he would give up his prime minister’s salary amid the country’s economic downturn. He said new Cabinet members would also be asked to cut their salaries.

“My main priority now is the cost of living,” he told a news conference.

Anwar pledged to work quickly to find ways to help Malaysians struggling with rising food prices, a currency at its lowest point in more than two decades and stagnant wages ahead of an expected economic downturn. next year.

Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope, won 82 of 222 seats in the November 19 general election. To cobble together a majority, he secured the support of two key rival blocs: the long-ruling National Front, which has 30 seats, and the Alliance of Sarawak Parties with 23. Several smaller blocs have said they will would also join.

Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Malaysia-centric National Alliance unexpectedly won 73 seats. Muhyiddin’s hardline ally, the Sharia-praising pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, won 49 seats to become the country’s largest party, a sign of the rise of conservative Islam.

Anwar’s victory with the support of his political rivals marked another “decisive moment that heralded a new era for Malaysian democracy”, said Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, a political analyst at the University of Science Malaysia.

This follows his alliance’s stunning victory in the 2018 polls, which ended the National Front’s 60-year grip on power and led to the country’s first regime change since independence from the Britain in 1957. But the new government collapsed after the power grab that led to turmoil and saw a total of three prime ministers in four years. Anwar was in prison at the time on a sodomy charge which he said was politically motivated.

Anwar adopted a conciliatory tone after his appointment, welcoming all parties to his government as long as they adhere to basic rules of good governance, non-corruption and a “Malaysia for all Malaysians”.

Analysts said the composition of his cabinet will provide a clearer picture of his policies going forward as he puts flesh in the bones of his campaign promises to clean up government and heal racial indentations and deeper and deeper religious. His anti-corruption platform will be tested amid fears that concessions will be made to some National Front leaders fighting corruption charges in return for their support.

An ethnic Muslim, Anwar must also win the trust of conservative Malaysians, who saw him as too liberal and opted for Muhyiddin’s right-wing bloc in the disputed election. Police tightened security and Anwar supporters were ordered to suspend celebrations that might provoke Islamic supporters.

In such a racist environment, Anwar’s goals – including replacing a decades-old affirmative action plan that grants privileges to Malays in jobs, education and housing – can be a minefield.

Anwar assured the Malays that their rights under the constitution and the position of Islam as the national religion would be protected. But he stressed that other races must not be marginalized so that the country can be united.

“The racial divide has existed in Malaysia since independence,” said political analyst Ahmad Fauzi.

“Anwar will find his own formula to get the problem under control, but to think he can turn it off is to expect the impossible from him,” he added.


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