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

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — 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 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…

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