Anwar Ibrahim has appointed a new prime minister of Malaysia, ending a decades-long wait

Malaysia’s king appointed longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister on Thursday, ending an unprecedented five-day post-election crisis after an inconclusive vote.

Anwar’s appointment spans a 30-year political journey from protégé of veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad to protest leader, sodomy prisoner, opposition leader and finally prime minister.

Markets rose as the political impasse ended. The ringgit posted its best day in two weeks and shares rose 3% on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange.

Saturday’s general election ended in an unprecedented parliament, with neither of the two main alliances, one led by Anwar and the other by former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassi, immediately gaining enough seats to form a government.

Anwar, 75, has repeatedly turned down the prime ministership despite coming a remarkable distance over the years: he was deputy prime minister in the 1990s and the official prime minister in 2018.

Marc Lourdes reported on the 2018 Malaysian elections for CNN

In between, he spent nearly a decade in prison for indecency and corruption in what he said were politically motivated charges aimed at ending his career.

Uncertainty over the election threatens to prolong political instability in the Southeast Asian nation, which has had three prime ministers in as many years, and risks delaying the political decisions needed to spur economic recovery.

Anwar leads a coalition of multi-ethnic parties with progressive leanings, while Muhyiddin’s alliance reflects more conservative, ethnic Malay and Muslim views.

His supporters said they hoped Anwar’s government would return to historic tensions between the ethnic Malay, Muslim majority and ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

“All we want is moderation for Malaysia and Anwar represents that,” said a communications manager in Kuala Lumpur, who asked to be identified only by his surname Tang.

“We cannot have a country divided by race and religion because that will set us back another 10 years.”

Anwar said in an interview with Reuters before the election that if appointed prime minister, he would try to “emphasize the fight against governance and corruption, and rid this country of racism and religious bigotry.”

His coalition, known as Pakatan Harapan, won the most seats in Saturday’s vote with 82 votes, while Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional bloc won 73 votes. They needed 112 – a simple majority – to form the government.

The long-ruling Barisan bloc won just 30 seats – the worst electoral performance for the coalition that has dominated politics since independence in 1957.

Barisan said on Thursday it would not support a Muhyiddin-led government, although it made no reference to Anwar.

Muhyiddin’s bloc includes the Islamist PAS party, whose electoral victories have fueled unrest among members of the ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian communities, many of whom practice other religions.

Authorities warned of rising ethnic tensions on social media after the weekend vote, and short video platform TikTok said it was on high alert for content that violated its guidelines.

Social media users reported numerous TikTok posts following the May 13, 1969 election, which featured rioting in the capital Kuala Lumpur in which nearly 200 people died, days after opposition parties backed by ethnic Chinese voters entered the polls.

Police urged social media users to refrain from “provocative” posts and said they have set up 24-hour checkpoints on roads across the country to ensure public peace and safety.

After both Anwar and Muhyiddin ran out of time on Tuesday afternoon to consolidate the ruling alliance, the decision on the prime minister came down to King Al-Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmed Shah.

The constitutional monarch plays a largely ceremonial role, but can appoint a prime minister whom he believes will have a majority in parliament.

Malaysia has a unique constitutional monarchy, where kings are chosen in turn from the royal families of nine states to rule for five years.

As prime minister, Anwar will have to deal with rising inflation and slowing growth as the economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, while calming ethnic tensions.

The most pressing issue will be next year’s budget, which has been discussed before the election, but has not yet been adopted.

Anwar will also have to make deals with lawmakers from other blocs to ensure he can retain majority support in parliament.

“Anwar was appointed at a critical time in Malaysia’s history when politics is the most fragmented, recovering from a depressed economy and a bitter Covid memory,” said James Chai, a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

“It is fitting that Anwar, who has always been seen as the man who can unite all the warring factions, has emerged in a time of division.”