KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s perennial opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was named prime minister on Thursday, ending a days-long political impasse after inconclusive polls.
His ascension — making him the country’s fourth leader in as many years — caps a turbulent political life for Anwar, during which he served jail time on corruption and sodomy charges.
“After taking into consideration the views of Their Royal Highnesses the Malay Rulers, His Majesty has given consent to appoint Anwar Ibrahim as the 10th Prime Minister of Malaysia,” read a statement from the royal palace.
The 75-year-old reformist leader was scheduled to be sworn-in at 5 p.m.
At the weekend election, Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan coalition won the most seats, 82, on an anti-graft message — but fell short of the required 112-seat majority.
Former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance) bloc had grabbed 73.
Muhyiddin, who was backed by an Islamist party, told reporters Tuesday that since no bloc had enough numbers, the king had initially asked him and Anwar to form a “unity government.”
Malaysia’s king, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, had summoned the two rivals in a bid to break the deadlock.
For Anwar, the premiership is the culmination of a rollercoaster 25 years.
The firebrand former student activist was close to power in the late 1990s, as finance minister and deputy prime minister to Mahathir Mohamad.
But the two had a bitter falling out over how to handle the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.
Mahathir sacked Anwar, who was also expelled from their then party the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), and charged with corruption and sodomy — the latter a crime in the largely Islamic nation.
He was sentenced to six years in jail for corruption in 1999, with an additional nine years added for the sodomy charge the following year, the two sentences to run consecutively.
As Anwar claimed political persecution, street protests erupted and evolved into a movement calling for democratic reforms.
The Mahathir-Anwar tussle has dominated and shaped Malaysian politics over the past four decades, “alternately bringing despair and hope, progress and regress to the country’s polity”, according to Oh Ei Sun of the Pacific Research Center of Malaysia.
The Malaysian Supreme Court overturned Anwar’s sodomy conviction in 2004 and ordered him freed.
Anwar allied with Mahathir during the 2018 elections, when his erstwhile tormentor came out of retirement to challenge incumbent Najib Razak, who was mired in the billion-dollar 1MDB financial scandal.
Their alliance scored a historic victory against UMNO and Najib, who is now serving a 12-year jail term for corruption.
Mahathir became prime minister for the second time, with an agreement to hand over the premiership to Anwar later.
He never fulfilled that pact, and their alliance collapsed after 22 months, leaving Anwar empty-handed again.