Malaysian king appoints reform leader Anwar as prime minister

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia– Malaysia’s king on Thursday appointed reformist opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim as the country’s prime minister, ending days of uncertainty after divisive general elections resulted in a hung parliament.

Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah said Anwar would be sworn in later on Thursday.

Anwar’s Alliance of Hope led Saturday’s election with 82 seats, fewer than the 112 needed for a majority. Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s right-wing National Alliance won 73 seats, with its ally Pan Malaysian Islamic Party emerging as the largest single party with 49 seats.

Anwar emerged victorious after other smaller blocs agreed to back him for a unity government. His rise to the top will ease fears in the multiracial nation about increased Islamization under Muhyiddin and raise hopes reforms for better governance will resume.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Reformist opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim edged closer to becoming Malaysia’s new prime minister after a political party on Thursday agreed to support a unity government following inconclusive general elections.

Any deal has yet to be approved by the Malaysian King. Last Saturday’s split election resulted in a parliament that renewed a leadership crisis in Malaysia, which has had three prime ministers since 2018. Police have tightened security across the country as social media warned of racial issues if Anwar’s multi-ethnic bloc wins.

Anwars Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope, led the race with 82 seats in Parliament, fewer than the 112 needed for a majority. Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin’s Malay-centric Perikatan Nasional, or National Alliance, won 73 seats. The 30-seat alliance led by the United Malays National Organization holds the key that will tip the balance.

UMNO reversed its decision to remain in opposition and said it would heed the king’s proposal for a unity government.

UMNO Secretary-General Ahmad Maslan said on Thursday the party’s highest decision-making body had decided to now support a unity government not led by the Muhyiddin camp. He said the party will accept any unity government or any other form of government decided by the king.

UMNO holds 26 seats and four others are held by component parties in their National Front alliance. It is unclear if the other party members have agreed to go along with UMNO’s decision.

If all 30 National Front MPs support Anwar, he will secure a majority. Anwar already has the backing of a small three-seat party on the island of Borneo. This gives him a total of 115 seats in parliament.

If Anwar lands the top job, it will allay fears about the rise of right-wing politics in the country. Muhyiddin’s bloc includes the hard-line Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party, which has 49 seats – more than double the number in 2018. Known as the PAS, it supports Islamic Sharia law, rules three states and is now the largest single party.

PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang refused to admit defeat and urged his supporters to remain calm.

“We are working on it. We are still in the lead. They are planning. Allah is planning. We are on the right side. God willing we will be protected, the country will be protected,” he wrote on Facebook.

Malay Muslims make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million population, which includes large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah is meeting with royal families from nine states on Thursday to consult them on the shutdown. Malaysia’s hereditary rulers, who take turns as kings of the country every five years under a unique rotating system, are highly regarded by the country’s Malay majority as upholders of Islam and Malay tradition.

Anwar’s reformist alliance won the 2018 election that led to the first regime change since Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957. However, the government collapsed after Muhyiddin defected and joined forces with UMNO to form a new government. Muhyiddin’s government was plagued by internal rivalries and he resigned after 17 months. UMNO leader Ismail Sabri Yaakob was then appointed prime minister by the king.

Many rural Malays fear they may lose their privileges with greater pluralism under Anwar. Fed up with corruption and power struggles in UMNO, many opted for Muhyiddin’s bloc in Saturday’s vote.

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