Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
AP

From prisoner to PM, Malaysia's Anwar had long ride to top

  • Updated
  • 0

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — More than two decades after his dramatic ouster from government and imprisonment, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim finally has his day.

Anwar was named Malaysia’s 10th prime minister by the nation’s king and sworn in Thursday, trumping a Malay nationalist leader to clinch the top job after divisive general elections led to a hung Parliament.

Becoming prime minister caps Anwar’s roller-coaster political journey, from a former deputy prime minister whose sacking and imprisonment in the 1990s led to massive street protests and a reform movement that rose into a major political force. It is a second victory for his reformist bloc, which won 2018 polls but lost power after 22 months due to a power struggle that has led to continuous political turmoil.

Last Saturday’s election, which was supposed to end the instability that had led to three prime ministers since 2018, instead produced new uncertainty after no party won a clear mandate. Anwar’s multiethnic Alliance of Hope, led with 82 seats, short of the 112 needed for a majority. Muhyiddin’s right-leaning National Alliance won 73 seats, with its ally Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party emerging as the biggest single party with 49 seats.

Anwar emerged victorious after smaller blocs agreed to back him to form a unity government. Still, he faces a tall task in bridging racial divides that deepened after Saturday’s poll and reviving an economy struggling with rising inflation and a currency that has fallen to its weakest point. Malays are two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, which include large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

“Anwar’s political struggle is of a comparable level as (South Africa's) Nelson Mandela, as both went through many persecutions in the process of democratizing their countries," said Ei Sun Oh with Singapore's Institute of International Affairs. “It is hoped that with Anwar in charge, Malaysia could revert to a more open and inclusive society and economy that would hopefully restore its prestige on the world stage."

Anwar, 75, had been on the cusp of power twice.

A firebrand youth leader, Anwar founded an Islamic youth movement before he was recruited into the then-ruling United Malays National Organization. He enjoyed a meteoric rise to become deputy prime minister-cum-finance minister in the 1990s. He was groomed to take over from then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad but a bitter fallout over Malaysia’s response to the Asian economic crisis saw Anwar sacked in September 1998, detained without trial and then charged with sodomy and corruption.

Tens of thousands took to the streets to protest Anwar’s treatment. When Anwar was brought to court with a black eye nine days after his arrest — due to an assault in custody by the country’s then police chief — it quickly became a symbol for his new People’s Justice Party and its vows for reforms. He was jailed six years for sodomy in 1999 and a year later, another nine years for corruption — charges Anwar said were a political conspiracy by Mahathir to end his career. His case drew international criticism, with Amnesty International calling Anwar a “prisoner of conscience.”

Anwar was freed in 2004 after Malaysia’s top court overturned his sodomy conviction, a year after Mahathir stepped down as prime minister after 22 years in power.

But Anwar was imprisoned a second time for sodomy in 2015 — in a case he said was aimed at crushing his alliance which was making gains against the UMNO-led government. Yet, he didn't give up.

From his prison cell, Anwar made up with Mahathir, who returned to politics as anger boiled over a multibillion-dollar scandal involving the 1MDB state investment fund. Their reunion led to historic 2018 polls that saw the unthinkable ouster of the UMNO-led alliance, which had led since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.

Mahathir became the world’s oldest leader at 92 after the victory. Anwar was pardoned shortly after and would have succeeded Mahathir, but infighting led to their government’s collapse just after 22 months. UMNO returned as part of a quarrelsome government with Muhyiddin’s National Alliance bloc that includes a hardline Islamic ally.

Still, the brief rule by Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan led to a significant upheaval as once-power UMNO leaders were jailed or brought to court for graft. Former Prime Minister Najib Razak was imprisoned in a case linked to the 1MDB saga. His wife, UMNO’s current chief and several party leaders are also battling separate corruption charges.

Anwar campaigned on a multiracial platform, promising to end racial and religious bigotry and plug billions of dollar lost to entrenched corruption. He finally succeeded in his dogged quest Thursday after a long battle.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

0 Comments
* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Congress is moving urgently to head off the looming U.S. rail strike. The House passed a bill Wednesday that would bind companies and workers to a proposed settlement reached in September that failed to gain the support of all 12 unions involved. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. It would impose a compromise labor agreement brokered by President Joe Biden's administration. That agreement was ultimately voted down by four of the 12 unions representing more than 100,000 employees at large freight rail carriers. The unions have threatened to strike if an agreement can’t be reached before a Dec. 9 deadline.

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority is sounding sympathetic to a Christian graphic artist who objects to designing wedding websites for gay couples. But in arguments Monday, liberal justices suggested that allowing that discrimination could open the door to broader refusals by businesses to serve Black, Jewish or Islamic customers, interracial couples and many others. The Colorado case is the latest clash of religion and gay rights to land at the high court. A case involving a Colorado baker and a wedding cake for a gay couple ended with a limited decision five years ago and is to return to the court.

A heartfelt Patti LaBelle praised her lifelong friend Gladys Knight. Matt Damon playfully teased George Clooney and Sheryl Crow performed a heartfelt rendition of “Baby Baby” for Amy Grant. Sean Penn called U2 “four scrappy Dublin punks,” and ballet dancers performed for conductor and composer Tania León. Knight, Clooney, Grant, León and U2 were feted during Sunday’s Kennedy Center Honors. Every year the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts honors a select group of people for their artistic contributions to American culture. The show will be broadcast on Dec. 28 on CBS. President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses were in attendance.

President Joe Biden is asking Congress to intervene to avert a potentially crippling freight rail strike before Christmas, even if it means handing a defeat to Democratic allies in the labor movement. The legislation urged by Biden and being voted on Wednesday by the House would impose a compromise labor agreement brokered by his administration that was ultimately voted down by four of the 12 unions that represent about 115,000 employees at the freight railroads. At issue is paid sick leave. Biden's deal would leave out provisions on that while preventing a rail stoppage that would cost the economy $2 billion a day. But forcing the deal could also cost him his good standing among unions.

Ukraine’s president says that special military units have entered the city of Kherson. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made the announcement Friday in a video address hours after Russia said it had completed withdrawing troops from the strategically key city. Zelenskyy said that “as of now, our defenders are approaching the city. In quite a bit, we are going to enter. But special units are already in the city."

Legislation to avert a freight rail strike in the United States is headed to President Joe Biden's desk. A bill to avoid the strike won final approval Thursday, clearing the Senate in a bipartisan vote. The bill will bind rail companies and workers to a proposed settlement that was reached between the rail companies and union leaders in September. That settlement had been rejected by four of the 12 unions involved, creating the possibility of a strike. The Senate vote was 80-15 and came one day after the House voted to impose the agreement. Biden has vowed to sign it quickly.

FBI Director Chris Wray is raising national security concerns about TikTok. He warned Friday that control of the popular video sharing app is in the hands of a Chinese government “that doesn’t share our values.” Wray said the FBI was concerned that the Chinese had the ability to control the app’s recommendation algorithm, “which allows them to manipulate content, and if they want to, to use it for influence operations.” He also asserted that China could use the app to collect data on its users that could be used for traditional espionage operations. A TikTok spokesperson says it is “on a path to fully satisfy all reasonable U.S. national security concerns.”

Listen now and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RSS Feed | Omny Studio

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Breaking News

News Alert