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The election battle is won, the real test begins for the new Prime Minister of Malaysia


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim has won a hard-fought battle to become Malaysia’s new prime minister….

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A reformist leader Anwar Ibrahim won a tough fight for the position of the new Prime Minister of Malaysia. But working with former enemies to form a unity government to watch over a polarized nation will immediately test his political mettle.

There is no honeymoon for Anwar, 75, who started work less than 24 hours later sworn in as the country’s 10th leader.

National television showed Anwar in the government’s administrative capital of Putrajaya on Friday morning. His first test will be to form a cabinet and allocate portfolios to appease the various members of his unity government.

Anwar promised on Monday that his Cabinet would be leaner than the previous, over-sized administration and said he would step down as prime minister amid the country’s economic downturn. He said that the new members of the Cabinet of Ministers will also be asked to cut their salaries.

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

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

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

Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Malay National Alliance unexpectedly won 73 seats. Muhyiddin’s staunch ally, the Sharia-promoting Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, won 49 seats to become the country’s largest party, signaling the rise of conservative Islam.

Anwar’s victory, backed by political rivals, was another “watershed moment that heralded a new era for Malaysian democracy,” said Ahmad Fawzi Abdul Hamid, a political analyst at the University of Science Malaysia.

This came amid a landslide victory for his alliance in the 2018 polls, which put an end to the 60-year rule of the National Front to power and led to the country’s first regime change since independence from Britain in 1957. But the new government collapsed after a power grab that led to riots and a total of three prime ministers in four years. At the time, Anwar was in prison on charges of sadism, which he said were politically motivated.

Anwar has maintained a conciliatory tone since his appointment, welcoming all parties into his government as long as they adhere to the basic principles of good governance, no corruption and a “Malaysia for all Malaysians”.

Analysts say the makeup of his cabinet will provide a clearer picture of his future policies as he makes good on his campaign promises to clean up government and heal festering racial and religious wounds. His anti-corruption platform will be tested amid fears that some National Front leaders battling graft allegations will be made concessions in exchange for their support.

An ethnic Muslim, Anwar must also win the trust of conservative Malays, who saw him as too liberal and chose Muhyiddin’s right-wing bloc in a disputed election. Police have stepped up security and Anwar’s supporters have been ordered to postpone celebrations that could provoke Islamic supporters.

In such a racial environment, Anwar’s goals — including replacing the affirmative action plan that gave Malays job, education and housing privileges — could be a minefield.

Anwar assured the Malays that their rights under the constitution and the status of Islam as the national religion would be protected. But he emphasized that other races should not be marginalized so that the country can unite.

“Racial division has existed in Malaysia since independence,” said political scientist Ahmad Fauzi.

“Anwar will come up with his own formula to curb the problem, but to think he can eliminate it is to expect the impossible from him,” he added.

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