November 24, 2022
The leader of the Hope Coalition, veteran Malaysian dissident Anwar Ibrahim, has been sworn in as the new prime minister, after several days of political deadlock in the country following the recent elections.
King Sultan Abdullah, the leader of the opposition, was tasked with forming the new government after elections that took place over the weekend, which resulted in a divided parliament, with neither of the two main parties in the country achieving a parliamentary majority.
A statement issued by the palace said that His Majesty the King approved the appointment of Anwar Ibrahim as Prime Minister of Malaysia, after consulting with the Council of State Governors.
Neither the two main competing coalitions, the one led by Anwar Ibrahim, or the one led by former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, were able to win enough seats to form a government.
The reformist Hope Alliance won 82 seats, while the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) led by Muhyiddin Yassin won 73 seats.
It is not yet clear with which party the country’s tenth prime minister will enter into an alliance to form a government.
The intensive negotiations to reach an agreement on a new government lasted for five days, during which various formations of alliances were discussed, without reaching an agreement.
The assignment of Anwar Ibrahim came after about 25 years of waiting, and a political career that lasted for decades, during which he almost reached the position, not once, but twice.
And after he was a close ally of Prime Minister and political leader Mahathir Muhammad, and his likely successor, the relationship between the two men changed, and Anwar Ibrahim was imprisoned during the era of the most prominent prime minister in the history of Malaysia.
This fluctuating relationship between the two men was responsible not only for determining the fate of Anwar Ibrahim, but also for drawing the shape of the Malaysian political scene as a whole, and Ibrahim’s position in it.
The name of Anwar Ibrahim, who is 75 years old today, first emerged as a charismatic and charismatic student leader, and as the founder of the Islamic Youth Movement in Malaysia.
In 1982, Anwar Ibrahim surprised many by joining the United Malay National Organization (UMNO), the party that had long dominated the country’s political life.
This step proved to be a wise political decision, as Ibrahim quickly climbed the political ladder, holding various ministerial positions.
In 1993 he became deputy to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and it was widely expected that he would succeed him. However, relations between the two men witnessed tensions after the Asian financial crisis in 1997, and differences arose between them, especially with regard to corruption files and the economic situation in the country.
charges and imprisonment
In September 1998 Ibrahim was removed from office, which led to public protests against Mahathir. This was the beginning of the emergence of the reform movement, which influenced a generation of pro-democracy activists in Malaysia.
Ibrahim was arrested and charged with homosexuality and corruption, which he denied in the ensuing controversial trial.
He was sentenced to six years in prison on corruption charges, sparking a wave of violent street protests.
And one year later, in 2000, he was convicted of having homosexual acts with his wife’s driver, and he was sentenced to another nine years in prison.
While homosexuality in Muslim-majority Malaysia is illegal, it is rare for a court to issue a ruling on this basis. Ibrahim’s conviction and sentence sparked international criticism, and the ruling was considered politically motivated.
Ibrahim denied the accusations, and was insisting that political motives stand behind them, and that they are part of a defamation campaign against him to eliminate his political future, and in order not to pose a threat to Mahathir Muhammad.
In 2003, Mahathir Muhammad decided to step down from his position as prime minister, and in late 2004, the Supreme Court of Malaysia overturned the conviction of Anwar Ibrahim for “sodomy”, and released him from prison.
Active opposition and new accusations
After his release, Anwar Ibrahim emerged as the main leader of the opposition, which witnessed remarkable activity, and recorded a strong performance in the 2008 elections, obtaining a third of the seats in Parliament, and controlling five states in the country.
However, in the same year, new accusations of homosexuality were brought against the opposition politician, which he described as a new attempt by the government to marginalize him.
Ultimately, a higher court acquitted Ibrahim of these charges in January 2012 due to lack of evidence.
In 2013, the opposition led by Ibrahim achieved new successes in elections described as the worst ever performance of the ruling National Front coalition (Barisan coalition).
But once again Anwar Ibrahim’s political ambitions were thwarted, and as he prepared to run in the 2014 general elections, his previous acquittal was overturned and he was sent back to prison.
In a surprising turn of events in 2016, his former opponent, Mahathir Mohamad, announced that he would return to political life and run for government leadership again.
Mahathir Mohamad, who was 92 years old at the time, said that he could no longer remain silent about corruption, which he accused then-Prime Minister Najib Razak of being responsible for its spread.
But in order to secure his return, Mahathir Mohamad made an unexpected deal with Anwar Ibrahim, who was still in prison and very popular with the opposition.
In a highly publicized moment, the two men exchanged a handshake they could never have expected, ushering in an era of extraordinary political alliance.
Mahathir Muhammad led the Hope Coalition (Pakatan Harapan), which won the historic elections that took place in 2018, ending the control of the United Malay National Organization (UMNO), the party that ruled the country for 61 continuous years.
The new coalition merged four parties into Malaysia’s first truly multi-ethnic coalition, and won the support of the Muslim Malay majority and the country’s large Chinese and Indian minorities.
Mahathir Muhammad, who returned to the presidency of the government in Malaysia, pledged to release Ibrahim, and fulfilled his promise to issue a full pardon for the imprisoned politician. He also indicated that he would hand over power to Ibrahim within two years.
A new beginning
But dangers began to surround the future of the alliance, as Mahathir Muhammad, the ninetieth man, began to change the rules for the transfer of power frequently. And the coalition began to collapse amid a bitter internal struggle over who should succeed Mahathir and the return of the Malay nationalist trend.
In February 2020, Mahathir’s unexpected resignation led to the collapse of the coalition, plunging the country into an unprecedented period of political turmoil, and leaving Ibrahim powerless empty-handed again.
After the collapse of the new government, the United Malay National Organization returned to power again, and Muhyiddin Yassin was appointed Prime Minister.
But just over a year later, at the height of the coronavirus outbreak, Muhyiddin resigned after turbulent months that saw him lose majority support in parliament.
In October 2022, his successor, Ismail Sabri Yaqub, announced the organization of early elections, and the UMNO was convinced that it would regain power based on its victory in a series of by-elections.
But those expectations were not met, and the Pakatan Harapan coalition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, won more seats in Parliament, although it lacked the majority needed to form a government.
Although Anwar Ibrahim was assigned to form the government, the road is still full of challenges that he must face, as he must form an appropriate ruling coalition, and there will undoubtedly be difficulties in promoting a more pluralistic and inclusive Malaysia, in the face of rising Islamism.