New Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim he pledged to make “Malaysia for all Malaysians”, fight corruption and reiterated that he would not take a salary as Malaysians struggle with the rising cost of living.
Anwar, who campaigned for Malaysia’s top job for 24 years amid political upheavals and prison terms, said improving the Southeast Asian nation’s economy would be his priority. He added that China remains crucial to Malaysia’s economic interests.
After being sworn in as the country’s 10th prime minister on Thursday, Anwar told a packed press conference that he would strive to make Malaysia a place that would not marginalize or neglect any group, including the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak.
“[Earlier] my grandson asked me how long you have to wait [for the swearing-in ceremony]? I said not long, just 24 years,” he said at the Sungai Long Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur.
He said that despite “trials and tribulations” and despite others trying to “sink and thwart” his path to the prime ministership, “I am proud to say that we have achieved – not for Anwar, not for ministers, no. [for] party leaders but to give a new sense of self-confidence to all Malaysians. It’s their land and it’s their land.”
Anwar Ibrahim faces a sea of journalists after Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony.
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“There are some fundamental issues that we will never compromise on [on]” he said, referring to good governance, anti-corruption issues and the independence of the courts.
“More importantly, the issue of the welfare of the common ‘rakyat’ which includes the issue of cost of living,” he said, using the Malay word for citizens.
Leaders from around the world including Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong offered their congratulations.
As reporters waited for the news conference to begin, Anwar received a phone call from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who he said “waited for two hours” to speak to him.
Both leaders spoke audibly about deepening bilateral relations.
Anwar’s arch-rival Mahathir Mohamad also congratulated him on social media. In a reversal of the trend, the former strongman who led Malaysia for decades lost his parliamentary seat in the last election.
Anwar was Mahathir’s deputy in the 1990s, but their relationship fell into conflict and Anwar was fired and eventually accused of sodomy.
Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim holds his first press conference after being appointed Prime Minister. His wife Wan Azizah is on his right.
Annice Lyn | Getty Images News | Getty Images
When asked about China during the press conference, Anwar said that he will build on the relationship with China as he does with other countries.
“China is an important neighbor. The priority is to strengthen bilateral relations with China, trade, investment. I will not leave it alone, I think it needs to be improved. Similarly, we must have a relationship with the United States, with Europe… with ASEAN,” he said, referring to the ten-member Southeast Asian bloc.
Anwar faces another test next month before he can implement the new policy after he said he would table a confidence vote on the first day of parliament on December 19.
The risky move comes as his rival Muhyiddin Yassin, leader of the rival Perikatan Nasional coalition, continues to challenge him to prove he has majority support.
Perikatan Nasional won 73 seats and was second behind Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan which won 82 seats.
Anwar confirmed during a press conference that in addition to the seats won by his coalition, he also received support from Barisan Nasional, which won 30 seats, and Gabungan Parti Sarawak, which won 23 seats. In doing so, he overcame the 112-seat simple majority needed to form a government.
Francis Hutchinson, senior fellow at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Friday that in addition to the difficult task of stabilizing the economy and securing the government, Anwar will have to find a way to win over voters who didn’t get it directly. vote for his Pakatan Harapan coalition.
Malaysia’s King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah on Thursday signed on Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
Mohd Rasfan | Afp | Getty Images
“There are many people who voted for Perikatan Nasional, Bersatu and PAS who would feel disenfranchised and left out,” Hutchinson said.
“So I think there needs to be some effort to go through that and find out why these people voted the way they did and where the common ground is.”
When asked if Anwar made a deal with Barisan Nasional to pardon jailed former prime minister Najib Razal in exchange for gaining their support, Hutchinson said: “We can put Najib aside for now” because his conviction was the result of a very complex legal process.
Najib was sentenced to 12 years in prison after being accused of his role in embezzling billions of dollars from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).