Uncharted territory for Anwar

“No single prime minister since 2018 was around long enough to warm the chair or bring a more lived-in atmosphere to this coveted office”, says the writer.


November 28, 2022

KUALA LUMPUR – IT has been such a dramatic week for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

This was ultimately his time and it was quite an electric moment when he arrived at Sungai Long, where his house is, to a mad crush of supporters and the media for his first press conference as Prime Minister.

PKR politician Najwan Halimi was almost overcome by the poignancy of the moment.

“This has been the most important day of my political career, it has always been the party’s goal to make him the PM. I feel proud for Anwar and also emotional,” said the 37-year-old Kota Anggerik assemblyman.

The man whom many had written off and whom detractors mocked as “PM tepi” (sidelined prime minister) had made it.

The thing is he did not take the easy route.

Instead, Anwar, 75, took an immense risk contesting in Tambun to ignite the national mood.

The risk paid off and the man who ran his Tambun campaign, Farhash Wafa Salvador Rizal Mubarak, was one of the handful of PKR politicians invited to the swearing-in ceremony on Thursday (Nov 24) afternoon.

It was an acknowledgement of Farhash’s role in Anwar’s final lap towards Putrajaya.

Barisan Nasional chairman Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who was instrumental in pushing his coalition towards Anwar, was grinning from ear-to-ear at the swearing-in event, looking as if he had scored a goal in the World Cup.

Anwar is coming in with much goodwill. The financial market has reacted positively and the Umno-bashing among the Pakatan crowd has died down now that Barisan has joined the unity government.

It seems like corruption issues were just a convenient political tool for Pakatan to use against its then opponents but it will be the start of the end if Anwar allows ongoing corruption cases to disappear.

Anwar has his work cut out for him. The economy will be a top priority and handling race relations is crucial given that he is facing a fierce Malay-dominated opposition.

Imagine the optics in Parliament – a multi-ethnic government on one side and a Malay-Muslim opposition on the other.

Anwar needs to manage expectations and should not be revengeful like those in the 22-month government.

The immediate test will be the composition of his Cabinet. Malaysians also do not want to see another obese Cabinet but can he afford not to appease the strange bedfellows propping him up?

Malaysia is entering unchartered territory and into what is said to be a unity government.

But with Perikatan Nasional not coming on board, it looks like yet another government of frenemies the country had in the last two years. The government is basically parties that had opposed each other getting together on the advice of the King.

That is hardly a recipe for political stability and it would not be surprising if, in the event of a by-election, parties in the unity government vie against each other.

Much will also hinge on Anwar’s ability to engage his partners in government, the powerful civil service, which is believed to have preferred Perikatan, and the Malay heartland which harbours deep suspicions about DAP.

Anwar’s personality has been on public display for decades but many saw a new side of him in the last few weeks.

There was his ability to handle stress, keep cool and maintain his sense of humour.

When asked where he was heading as his car came out from his house earlier this week, he said with a grin: “Tengok wayang”.

Anwar and his family have moved house three times in the last 30 years or so. His Bukit Damansara house was deemed the unluckiest because he was sacked as deputy prime minister when living there. His Segambut home was a little better.

Chinese believers of feng shui say the Sungai Long house which he moved into two years ago, has brought him golden luck.

But the chatter among his Muslim supporters is that “Pak Su Mid’s prediction has come true”.

Pak Su Mid or Syeikh Abdul Hamid Ismail, who died two weeks ago, was a noted Kedah ulama and some sort of sage figure who had foreseen Anwar’s ascent.

Anwar’s attire when clocking in on Friday stood out from that of the formally-suited top civil servants.

He wore a simple baju Melayu, with the top hanging loosely over his samping, and sandals or what is known as capal. He was probably dressed for Friday prayers later on but the subtext is that he is not bound by conventions, a hint that he intends to do things differently.

The empty shelves and bare walls behind the Prime Minister’s desk where he was photographed signing some documents spoke volumes of the political rollercoaster of the past four years.

No single prime minister since 2018 was around long enough to warm the chair or bring a more lived-in atmosphere to this coveted office.

Will Anwar be able to keep the seat longer than those before him? He has committed to a critical test of numbers when Parliament convenes on Dec 19.

“He has the numbers to survive the vote of confidence,” said Farhash.

Anwar’s premiership is being heralded as the dawn of a new Malaysia. But that was also what Malaysians were told back in 2018.

However, an official from the newly-formed Perak government said: “Anwar will survive. He is not going to repeat the mistakes that Mahathir (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) made.”

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