The naming of Anwar as prime minister on Thursday brought a halt to a chaotic election season in Malaysia that has seen the fall of political titan Mahathir Mohamad, surprising gains by a far-right Islamic party and endless infighting among supposed allies, caused in large part by the conviction of former prime minister Najib Razak on charges including money laundering and abuse of power.
“This is a unity government,” Anwar said on Thursday evening at his first news conference as prime minister. Alternating between Malay and English, he pledged to stamp out the corruption that has sullied Malaysian politics in recent years and expressed gratitude to the supporters who have stood by him over decades.
“We will uphold the rights of all citizens,” he said. “And we would like all citizens to work with us.”
Earlier in the day, Malaysia’s king announced that he had approved the appointment of the veteran politician as the country’s 10th prime minister. In Malaysia, a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy, the king formally names the head of government.
The moment marks a dramatic comeback for Anwar, 75, an internationally known figure whose political rise, fall and return has spanned generations. He now faces the daunting task of leading a country of 32.5 million as it grapples with a divided electorate, a global economic slowdown, and intensifying geopolitical tensions in Southeast Asia between China and the United States.
Anwar founded the country’s Reformasi political movement, which has rallied since the 1990s for social justice and equality. He is also well known as a proponent of Muslim democracy and has professed admiration for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was once seen as a moderate Democrat. Islam is the state religion in Muslim-majority Malaysia, but other faiths are widely practiced.
A former deputy prime minister under Mahathir, who was later regarded as his bitter rival before they reconciled, Anwar strove for decades to reach the country’s top political post. He also served two lengthy stints in prison for sodomy and corruption — convictions that Anwar says were politically motivated.
As he left his news conference, Anwar chanted a slogan that has served as a rallying cry throughout his political career. “Lawan sampai menang!” he yelled before being mobbed by supporters. Fight until you win.
Anwar’s multiethnic reformist coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), or Alliance of Hope, won 82 seats after last week’s election. The alliance was the largest single bloc but still several dozen seats shy of the 112 that it needed to form a majority. It raced against Perikatan Nasional (PN), a right-wing coalition that won 73 seats, to…