GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 682, 27 November 2022

Malaysia: Anwar Ibrahim appointed by the King as the Prime Minister
Vignesh Ram

What happened?
On 25 November, Malaysia’s long time opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was appointed as the 10th Prime Minister of Malaysia. 

As none of the parties have the necessary majority to form the government on their own, King Sultan Abdullah, after consulting with the Pakatan Harapan (to which Anwar Ibrahim belong to), and the Perikatan National (to which the former PM Muhyiddin Yassin come from), decided to announce Anwar as the Prime Minister.

What is the background?
First, the electoral developments. Anwar emerged victorious after severe back-door negotiations with other parties to form the government due to an unclear verdict by voters who went to polls on 19 November 2022. While the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition headed by Anwar secured the maximum votes, it fell short of commanding a majority to form the government. The Malaysian monarch suggested the two principal coalitions, PH and the Perikatan Nasional (PN), create a unity government, leading to an impasse as the PN decided to stay out of the arrangement. This situation put the losing Barisan Nasional (BN) in a key position leading it to support Mr Anwar along with Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) based out of Sabah. 

Second, Anwar’s reformist coalition. Anwar Ibrahim and his reformist coalition have been in the fray for power for decades. Mr Anwar, once a protégé of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, broke ranks with the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) headed   by BN over disagreements with the latter in the late 1990’s. Anwar was jailed on politically motivated charges for nearly a decade. However, notably, mending ways with Mr Mahathir, Anwar finally formed the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition before the 2018 polls, leading it to a historic win and defeating the ruling UMNO from power first time since Malaysia’s electoral politics began. However, a series of political defections from within the party, and a betrayal by Mahathir, meant that Mr Anwar lost his chance at the PM position once again, and the PH coalition fell through in 2020. It led to a complex medley of parties, including the BN, PN and several other parties forming a coalition. 

Third, new trends. A discerning trend has been the shifts in voter behaviour within coalitions. For instance, the emergence of Parti Islam Se-Malaysia as the largest party within the PN coalition signifies a shift in voter behaviour when contrasted with the emergence of PH as the largest party. As both mostly carry an opposite political view. This signals a split in the traditional Malay vote bank, which traditionally belonged to the UMNO led by the BN that has lost chiefly steam since 2018.   

What does it mean?
Anwar’s appointment signifies a victory for the reform movement in Malaysia, which is indicated through the return of the mandate to the PH as the largest party. The shifting trends displayed in the recent elections predict a future trajectory of politics that a polarized mandates and a further erosion of established actors popular in Malaysian politics may challenge. 

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