KUALA LUMPUR — As Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim prepares on Thursday to take over as prime minister, one of his recent comments serves to sum up the persistence that secured him the job he has eyed for three decades.
“This you need to learn from Anwar Ibrahim – patience, wait a long time, patience,” the opposition leader told reporters outside his home a day after Saturday’s election led to a hung parliament and a political crisis.
While Anwar’s progressive bloc won the most seats in parliament, it did not secure a majority. But the uncertainty ended on Thursday, when Malaysia’s king appointed Anwar, 75, to be prime minister.
Time and again, the job of prime minister had eluded Anwar, despite getting within striking distance over the years, first as deputy prime minister in the 1990s and later, as official prime minister-in-waiting, in 2018.
In between, he spent nearly a decade in jail for sodomy and corruption on charges he says were politically motivated.
The most charismatic opposition leader the southeast Asian nation has ever seen, Anwar led tens of thousands of Malaysians in street protests in the 1990s against his mentor-turned-foe Mahathir Mohamad.
His strained relationship with the veteran leader shaped Anwar’s own career, as well as Malaysia’s political landscape, for nearly three decades.
Mahathir once called Anwar his friend and protege, and anointed him his successor. But later, amid sodomy charges and disagreements over how to handle the Asian financial crisis, he said Anwar was unfit to lead “because of his character”.
The two buried the hatchet briefly in 2018 to oust from power the political alliance they once belonged to – only to fall out again within two years, ending their 22-month-old government and plunging Malaysia into a period of instability.
As opposition leader – both from jail and in parliament – Anwar slowly chipped away at the might of the Barisan Nasional alliance, Malaysia’s longest ruling coalition that prioritized the interests of the majority Malays.
His rallying cry of ‘reformasi’, or reforms, resonated nationwide, and is still the main promise of his alliance.
RELATED: Anwar Ibrahim: The man who fulfilled his goal to lead Malaysia
After decades of waiting in the wings, Anwar Ibrahim has been appointed Malaysia’s prime minister.
His appointment is the result of a decades-long political journey that saw him almost elected to the job – not once, but twice.
He was imprisoned for years under the leadership of political titan Mahathir Mohamad, who was also Mr Anwar’s one-time mentor.
The rollercoaster relationship between the two men would come to define not only Mr Anwar’s fortunes, but also Malaysian politics – and Mr Anwar’s place in it.
Mr Anwar, now 75, first made his name as a charismatic firebrand student leader who founded Malaysia’s Islamic youth movement, ABIM.
He surprised many by joining the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the long-ruling party, in 1982.
But it proved a canny political move – he climbed rapidly up the political ladder and held multiple ministerial posts.
In 1993 he became Mr Mahathir’s deputy and was widely expected to succeed him. But tensions set in after the Asian financial crisis of 1997, as they clashed over the economy and corruption.
RELATED: Mahathir Mohamad: The man who dominated Malaysian politics
At the age of 97, Mahathir Mohamad is a name that has dominated Malaysian politics for decades.
Mr Mahathir first served as the country’s prime minister for 22 years, from 1981 to 2003.
He is widely credited for Malaysia’s rapid economic development and transformation from the 1980s.
In 2018, he came out of retirement in a bid to take down former prime minister Najib Razak – who had been accused of embezzling hundreds of millions in state funds.
With the help of former rival Anwar Ibrahim, Mr Mahathir was voted in again as the country’s prime minister, while Mr Najib was charged and eventually jailed on charges of money laundering and abuse of power.
But the alliance proved unable to withstand the weight of internal rivalries, and in February 2020 Mr Mahathir found himself ousted in a twist of events that saw the collapse of the governing Pakatan Harapan coalition.
However, the two-time premier continues to be an influential figure in the country, although his legacy has been mixed.
By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter