Anwar Ibrahim: Malaysian prime minister’s exceptional rise prisoner to high workplace


It’s a political journey a long time within the making – the transformation of a younger scholar firebrand into an icon of democracy and ultimately the chief of his nation, by way of two stints in jail.

Now age 75, Anwar Ibrahim has lastly realized his dream by changing into the tenth prime minister of Malaysia.

And in his first phrases after being sworn in on Thursday, he made clear he intends to not dwell on the divisions of the previous, however deal with the longer term with a cupboard that may embrace his former political foes.

“This is a national unity government and all are welcome on condition (they) accept the fundamental rules: good governance, no corruption and a Malaysia for all Malaysians,” Anwar mentioned as he pledged to heal a racially divided nation, battle corruption and revive an financial system nonetheless struggling to get well from the pandemic.

“No one should be marginalized under my administration,” he vowed.

Anwar’s appointment comes almost every week after a tumultuous common election that resulted within the first hung parliament in Malaysian historical past.

His reformist and multi-ethnic Pakatan Harapan coalition gained probably the most seats in final week’s vote – 82 – however failed to succeed in a easy majority wanted to type a authorities, which means Anwar may solely be appointed after the intervention of the Malaysian king.

Observers say he may have his work reduce out if he’s to bridge the divisions which have seen him named the fourth prime minister since 2018, when a landmark election dumped the Barisan Nasional coalition out of energy for the primary time since independence amid anger over a multibillion-dollar monetary scandal on the state funding fund.

“This has been by far, the most fragmented, volatile and dangerous period ever in Malaysian politics,” mentioned political commentator Ei Solar Oh. “While many applaud the appointment of a progressive and reformist candidate, it won’t be the end to problems.”

“Political wranglings and infighting will still continue and Anwar has the task of having to heal profound wounds and gaps between the progressives and conservatives,” he added.

Born on August 10, 1947 on the island of Penang, Anwar started his political profession as a scholar activist main varied Muslim youth teams in Kuala Lumpur. He was arrested at one level over his function in main demonstrations in opposition to rural poverty and starvation.

Years later, he stunned many by making a foray into mainstream politics, becoming a member of the Malay nationalist celebration UMNO (United Malays Nationwide Organisation) led by then-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad – a person who would turn into each Anwar’s mentor and nemesis.

Anwar’s rise inside the celebration was speedy and he was quickly elevated to varied high-ranking ministerial positions, changing into deputy prime minister in 1993.

At this level, Anwar was broadly anticipated to succeed Mahathir, however the two males started to conflict over points together with corruption and the financial system.

Tensions additional strained because the 1997 Asian monetary disaster battered the nation and in 1998 Anwar was fired from Mahathir’s Cupboard and expelled from UMNO.

He then started main public protests in opposition to Mahathir – a transfer that signaled the beginning of a brand new pro-democracy motion.

That very same yr, Anwar was arrested and detained with out trial, and was charged with corruption and sodomy. Even when consensual, sodomy is an offense punishable by as much as 20 years in jail in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

He has all the time strongly denied the fees, claiming they have been politically motivated, however that has not stopped them from plaguing his political profession ever since.

His subsequent jailing sparked violent road protests, with supporters evaluating his plight to that of Nelson Mandela.

That first conviction was overturned by a courtroom in 2004, a yr after two-time chief Mahathir left workplace for the primary time, but it surely was not the final time Anwar would discover himself behind bars.

After his return as an opposition determine, extra allegations of sodomy have been made in opposition to him and – following a protracted courtroom battle that happened over a interval of years – returned to jail in 2014.

What occurred subsequent is maybe some of the exceptional turnarounds within the nation’s political historical past.

In a shocking twist – with Anwar nonetheless behind bars – he and Mahathir joined forces for the 2018 election in a bid to topple the federal government of Najib Razak, whose administration had turn into embroiled in a corruption scandal surrounding the state funding fund 1 Malaysia Improvement Berhad (1MDB).

As a part of his marketing campaign pledge, Mahathir vowed that ought to they succeed he would free Anwar and even step apart for him after a few years in energy. Mahathir caught to the primary promise – a royal pardon freed Anwar quickly after the election – however he backtracked on the second, a U-turn that cut up their supporters and fed the stalemate that has dogged all efforts to type a steady authorities since.

Amongst his first pledges as Malaysia’s new prime minister, Anwar mentioned he “would not take” a wage as a present of solidarity with Malaysians battling the rising price of residing.

He additionally promised to assist the nation embrace multi-culturalism.

Malaysia has lengthy adopted a coverage of institutionalized affirmative motion favoring the ethnic Malay majority over its sizable Chinese language Malaysian and Indian Malaysian minorities.

And overcoming a long time of polarization over race, faith and reform within the Muslim-majority nation is not going to come straightforward – not least as a result of consultants don’t rule out makes an attempt by rivals in his new authorities to topple his management.

Whereas two-thirds of Anwar’s cupboard can be made up of members of his Pakatan Harapan reformist coalition, in a gesture of nationwide unity he has agreed that the remaining posts can be given to members of the regional Gabungan Rakyat Sabah celebration and – maybe extra surprisingly – representatives of the Barisan Nasional coalition, which incorporates a number of UMNO politicians that he did a lot to topple.

“He is entering a very uneasy political alliance in a fragmented landscape,” mentioned Oh, the political commentator.

“The current election outcomes have solely confirmed how divided the nation is.

“He now has the difficult job of navigating and balancing the progressive sectors with the conservative religious forces.”

Anwar's swearing-in ceremony takes place at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur on November 24, 2022.

Internationally, rights teams have welcomed Anwar’s appointment and his pledge to prioritize human rights and democracy.

“This is a leader who has personally suffered massive politically motivated injustices,” mentioned Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch.

Robertson mentioned the rights group hoped Anwar would “bring reforms to laws and regulations that have been used in the past to criminalize peaceful exercise of civil and political rights,” pointing to points like discrimination in opposition to transgender and homosexual communities, the therapy of migrant staff and little one marriage and refugee legal guidelines.

“One hopes that lessons have been learned from the previous Pakatan Harapan government, which faltered after two years in power,” Robertson mentioned.

“We hope that Anwar will move forward with his vision, recognize that he was elected to act on his programs and policies, and implement his mandate.”

And domestically, no less than for now, the celebratory temper continues amid optimism that years of political chaos and uncertainty might lastly be up to now.

“Malaysians can be hopeful that the discord that risks spiraling out of control gets to lose some oxygen now – or at least it won’t be coming from hardline nationalists within UMNO for the time being,” mentioned Malaysian journalist Amirul Ruslan, including that “Unlike Mahathir, I can see (Anwar) transitioning policies away from being race-centric.”

Describing Anwar’s new authorities, comprising former enemies, as “unprecedented”, he added: “Anwar is the right man for our divided country.”