It took Anwar Ibrahim more than 24 years after being sacked as deputy prime minister by Mahathir Mohamed to become prime minister. Anwar’s prime ministership was almost denied to him with Muhyiddin Yassin trying to cobble a Malay-centric coalition together. However, Anwar Ibrahim came through in the end with what is now described as a unity government coalition.
We must also not forget the role the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah played in making a unity government happen. Over the last few days, the Agong coped criticism, but came through for the people of Malaysia.
Last night at Anwar’s first inaugural press conference as prime minister, he took to the podium with chants of ‘Reformasi’, the slogan created during the late nineties by the moment which was the forerunner to the Pakatan Harapan coalition, now leading the new government.
Anwar’s strength has always been the ability to bring people together. Over the last few days, he showed that he can still do that, bringing in the Barisan Nasional, particularly Umno, and the very much estranged GPS of Sarawak into his new government.
Anwar’s respect for the monarchy put him in good stead to pivot to power with an Agong who worked hard to bring Malaysia a government that would be stable. For sure, the Agong didn’t want any repeat of the political antics that have been going on over the last three years.
Now Anwar is prime minister, he promised Malay rights, the position of Islam under the Constitution, and the monarchy as three central tenants of his new government. Anwar went on to say his government would be for all people, where no one would be left marginalized.
One would hope that Anwar is shaping the new government within the mantra of Tunku Abdul Rahman himself. His telephone conversation upon the podium with Turkish prime minister Erdogan was symbolic of Malaysia’s place within the Islamic world.
Anwar’s government can’t be completely secular, but he certainly caste the shape of the nature of government he dares to pursue. Both the BN and GPS will be good partners here.
Anwar also said the economy will be his first priority. Most Malaysians will greatly appreciate this focus after the suffering they have gone through over the last few years with the pandemic.
Now Anwar must cobble together a coalition and cabinet that will reflect his espoused aspirations for the nation. In some ways, his unity coalition is a bonus for Pakatan. It brings in parties that otherwise wouldn’t have worked with Pakatan. This gives Pakatan a very comfortable working majority in parliament.
Pakatan may not be the reform government that many hope for. Pakatan’s vision may be much more orientated towards bringing the nation towards, a Malaysian looking Malaysia. This verges away from the Malay-Islamic state that previous governments were steering towards.
This is perhaps going to be the immediate legacy of Anwar’s government. All the political conditions are now right for Anwar to do this. If he comes through, many Malaysians will forever be very thankful.
The Islamization of Malaysia will be Anwar’s greatest challenge. He must steer a course between secularism and Islam, to return to TAR’s vision of what Malaysia could be.
Anwar’s second challenge will be that of transition. Malaysia has been for too long governed by the same politicians. This new parliament has brought in a host of young new people, who must be nurtured towards the future leadership of the nation.
If Anwar can take on these two challenges and nurture these changes in Malaysia, he can within a very short time create a long-lasting legacy for Malaysia. This legacy could potentially change the whole nature of Malaysian politics.
We have been waiting for 24 years. This is an opportune time for Anwar to become prime minister. This is Anwar’s time. Its not going to be easy, and some days we may be disappointed in some of the conservative decisions the new administration makes. We must trust Anwar’s judgement of what is possible to be done. Anwar is only too aware of how and by how far he can maneuver.
Everyone is giving Anwar their laundry lists of aspirations, and what they believe needs to be done. We must sit back and be patient first.
So today, is the first day of a new Malaysia. For a time, it won’t look too much different. However, the formations of Perak and Pahang state governments over the last few days have shown what is possible.
Let’s hope Anwar, has this legacy in mind over the coming months and years. We all wake up today with new hopes for this still young nation.
(Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 40 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic and researcher. He was an associate professor at Universiti Malaysia Perlis.)