After three decades of more setbacks than successes in his political trajectory, Anwar Ibrahim, 75, was named this Thursday (24) prime minister of Malaysia, a country of 34 million people in Southeast Asia.
The appointment was made by King Al-Sultan Abdullah after a stalemate between Malaysian political forces. The country went to the polls on Saturday (19), but no coalition won a majority in the 222-seat parliament. The Pakatan Harapan (pact of hope), of the now prime minister, got 82 seats – for the majority, however, 112 are needed.
Malaysia is both a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. The king has the last word in appointing prime ministers in the event of such an impasse.
Abdullah even tried a unity government, to be forged together with the conservative alliance Perikatan Nasional, of former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who obtained 73 seats in the Legislature, but the plan did not succeed.
Anwar Ibrahim began his political career as an ally of Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, who served for 22 years, but their relationship soured in the late 1990s when Ibrahim began to expose corruption.
The now prime minister founded a protest movement called Reforma and has since become leader of the opposition. Ibrahim has also been arrested twice on charges of sodomy, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison in the country, and corruption, allegations he and NGOs like Amnesty International say are politically motivated.
In an interview with Reuters a few days before the election, Ibrahim said that a possible government would seek to emphasize the fight against corruption, racism and religious intolerance. He has repeatedly called for an end to policies that favor Malaysians and an end to what he calls a patronage system.
A multiethnic country, Malaysia has 61.8% of its population made up of Malays, with an Islamic majority, in addition to 21.4% of Chinese and 6.4% of Indians, according to official data from 2016. Local politics have been marked by a broad debate on Malaysian supremacy, which seems to have gained strength in the current election.
The best-voted party in the elections was PAS, the Islamic Party, which won 49 seats in Parliament. The acronym preaches the rigid adoption of sharia, Islamic law, and its leader, Abdul Hadi Awang, has already defended that the Malaysian Constitution gains an Islamic interpretation.
He called for the adoption of punishments such as amputation, beating and stoning to death, among other things. For many Malaysians, then, Ibrahim could represent a kind of antidote to radical and supremacist impulses. It is enough to know if the new prime minister will achieve governability.