Malaysia’s premier Anwar Ibrahim wins confidence vote in parliament

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim won a confidence vote in parliament Monday, cementing his mandate a month after an inconclusive election result forced him to ally with the graft-tainted party of his former political rivals.

The affirmation of support was done via voice vote late in the day, with those in favour of Anwar’s leadership drowning out those opposed, said Johari Abdul, speaker of the lower house of parliament. Anwar told AFP he had the support of 148 members of the 222-seat legislature, giving him the two-thirds majority necessary to pass reforms after a divisive November 19 general election.

House speaker Johari, a close Anwar ally, got 148 votes when he was elected for the post earlier Monday. Analysts said the strong majority should bring political stability to the Southeast Asian nation, which has seen four leadership changes in as many years.

Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition won 82 seats, leading rivals but falling short of the simple majority needed to form a government. A days-long political stalemate followed, as a rival group led by former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin said it had also garnered majority support, forcing Malaysia’s king to intervene.

Anwar, a long-time opposition leader, was sworn in as the country’s 10th prime minister on November 24 to head a unity government. This meant, however, that the reformist politician who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, had to form an alliance with Barisan Nasional, the graft-tainted party of ex-leader Najib Razak. Najib is currently in jail for money laundering and abuse of power for offences linked to a massive financial scandal at state fund 1MDB.

Political tightrope

Before the confidence vote, questions remained about Anwar’s legitimacy in the role, given the king’s intervention to appoint him. “The Anwar government is by no means henceforth stable for the next five years,” Malaysian political analyst Oh Ei Sun told AFP.

Anwar, however, will likely walk a political tightrope as he “continues to appease his coalition partners” while dealing with soaring food prices and a slowing economy, Oh added. A former firebrand student leader, Anwar was a rising political star in the 1990s, becoming finance minister and deputy prime minister under Malaysia’s political patriarch Mahathir Mohamad.

But the two had a bitter falling-out over how to handle the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. Anwar was sacked and thrown in jail for corruption and sodomy, charges he said were politically motivated. Street protests erupted and evolved into a movement for democratic reforms.

He was again jailed for sodomy in 2015. He denied the charges and received a full pardon from the king three years into his sentence. Mahathir and Anwar reunited in the 2018 general election to oust Najib, with the senior politician becoming prime minister for the second time, making an agreement to hand over the premiership to Anwar at a later date.

He never fulfilled that pact, and their alliance collapsed after 22 months. Last month’s election saw their fortunes reversed, with 97-year-old Mahathir failing to win his seat and Anwar becoming prime minister. – AFP


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