November 26, 2022

It was a bumpy road to the summit of power for Anwar Ibrahim, who fulfilled his dream of becoming Malaysian prime minister on Thursday.

In his decades-long search for the top job, the 75-year-old has seen political triumphs and defeats, leading street protests for democratic reform and assembling a multi-ethnic opposition coalition behind bars.

He was appointed prime minister by the Malaysian king after days of political deadlock following an inconclusive election.

– Impatient Arsonist –

Anwar was born into a political family in August 1947.

His father, Ibrahim Abdul Rahman, was a former MP and his mother, Che Yan Hussein, was a political organizer in the northern state of Penang, which was then part of the British Empire.

Anwar, a hot-headed youth activist during his college days, has spoken of his admiration for Filipino revolutionary hero Jose Rizal, describing him as “a true Renaissance Asian man”.

In 1982, Anwar was recruited into the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the party then in the midst of its 60-year dominance of Malaysian politics.

His star blossomed, and the suave young politician became finance minister and then deputy prime minister under then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in the early 1990s, bringing a youthful counterbalance to the shrewd political veteran.

They were considered one of the most dynamic duos in Southeast Asian politics, but their relationship soured over how to deal with the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

Some observers say Anwar was too impatient to become prime minister and belittled his patron.

Mahathir fired Anwar, who was also expelled from UMNO and charged with corruption and sodomy.

He was sentenced to six years in prison for corruption in 1999, the following year a nine-year sentence for bestiality was added, the two sentences being served back-to-back.

When Anwar claimed political persecution, street protests erupted and coalesced into a multi-ethnic opposition movement calling for democratic reforms.

Photos of Anwar with a black eye inflicted by Malaysia’s then-prison police chief were published in newspapers around the world, making him a symbol of a struggle that took on the rallying cry “Reformasi!” or reforms.

-despair and hope-

The Malaysian Supreme Court overturned Anwar’s sodomy conviction in 2004 and ordered his release.

He took a brief break from politics to pursue academia, but returned to lead an opposition coalition in the 2013 general election.

His coalition won 50.87 percent of the vote but failed to muster a parliamentary majority.

The married father of six has continued to be dogged by controversy.

In 2015 he was jailed again for sodomy, this time for five years.

He has maintained his innocence and was granted a full pardon by the Malaysian king three years after serving his sentence. Anwar returned to Parliament months later in a by-election.

-Fragile Alliance-

The 2018 election brought about a new alliance with his one-time rival Mahathir, the couple made an unlikely reunion to take on their former party UMNO, led by Prime Minister Najib Razak and then embroiled in the multi-billion dollar 1MDB financial scandal.

They scored a historic win over UMNO and Najib, who is now serving a 12-year sentence on corruption charges.

Mahathir became prime minister for the second time, with an agreement that the post of prime minister would later be handed over to Anwar.

He never fulfilled that pact, and their alliance collapsed after 22 months.

“I feel the people’s strong desire for change and for Malaysia to move forward in a new direction,” Anwar said ahead of last week’s elections.

After being sworn in on Thursday, Anwar will finally be able to set that direction.