November 29, 2022
JAKARTA – A hearty congratulations to Anwar Ibrahim on his appointment as prime minister following the most fiercely contested election in Malaysia’s history. The hung parliament from the 15th general election on Nov. 19 led King Al-Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah to make the final decision. On Friday, he gave Anwar the mandate to form the government.
It could not have happened to a nicer guy.
Anwar has been a prime-minister-in-waiting for more than two decades. He was deputy prime minister in the 1990s but things fell apart for him and he was removed from his post by then-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who was also his political mentor. From then on, things went from bad to worse and he was persecuted and jailed under trumped-up charges.
After jail time, he returned to politics to set up the People’s Justice Party (PKR). The political party won the election in 2018, but then lost out in the race for the prime ministership, to Mahathir of all people. His party had since been in opposition. Now, finally, he gets the chance to lead Malaysia.
We look forward to a new special relationship with Malaysia under Prime Minister Anwar. He has a soft spot for Indonesia. He launched the pro-democracy campaign in Malaysia in 1998 inspired by the successful movement in Indonesia that forced strongman Soeharto out of power. He even used the Indonesian term “reformasi” for his movement to try to unseat Mahathir.
When Anwar was deprived of access to the tightly controlled Malaysia media in the 2000s, he often flew to Jakarta to give a press conference, where he found a more receptive audience, to criticize the Malaysian government. The Indonesian media duly reported his statements.
Under Anwar, our relationship should blossom beyond the common Malay heritage, based on our shared values for democracy, freedom, human rights and dignity. A bond based on these universal values should be good for the rest of the Southeast Asia region.
As prime minister, Anwar can finally push the programs he talked about when he launched his reformasi movement in 1998 to turn Malaysia into a more open, democratic, equal and just society.
His debut as prime minister comes at a most difficult time. Like all countries around the world, Malaysia is facing huge economic challenges in this post-COVID-19 pandemic era, from food and energy crises and now the threat of a new round of global economic recession.
Uniting Malaysia will be his priority after the election fractured the nation along party, ethnic, religion and regional lines. Three big coalitions contested for seats and the right to form the government. The resulting hung parliament is a consequence of a multi-party democratic political system. Anwar’s coalition and the opposition in parliament must respect the will of the people.
Malaysia must accustom itself to the frequent changes in government through democratic elections. Gone are the days when a single party, or a single individual, could rule the country for long periods of time, even decades.
Governing Malaysia is not going to be easy. The fact that Anwar’s rule is based on the king’s writ rather than the will of the people makes his coalition government even more vulnerable. His long years in politics, including in government in the 1990s and the ordeal of being politically persecuted, should make him a wiser leader. He could well be the right man at the right time for Malaysia.
We wish Dato’ Anwar success in leading Malaysia. God knows he is going to need it.