A Year in Power: Malaysian premier Anwar searches for support as frustration rises over slow reform #Year #Power #Malaysian #premier #Anwar #searches #support #frustration #rises #slow #reform

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Marking his first anniversary of coming to power, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahm admitted he was still struggling to win over ethnic Malay votes and acknowledged frustration over the slow pace of reforms. But he defended his unity government, saying it was now politically stable and able to fully focus on bolstering the economy and improving the people’s welfare.

In a candid interview with private television network TV3 late Tuesday, Anwar said that while he understood discontentment because of the slow pace of his government’s reform plan, “we must navigate wisely and prioritize political stability.”

Anwar, 76, whose sacking and imprisonment in the 1990s led to massive street protests and a reform movement that rose into a major political force, has been a long-time opposition leader. He clinched victory last year in the country’s general elections.

Despite a two-thirds majority in Parliament, Anwar’s unity government has been plagued by the powerful opposition Islamic bloc that further expanded its influence in state elections earlier this year. The Perikatan Nasional (PN), underpinned by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, now rules four of Malaysia’s 13 states.

In the interview, Anwar accused the opposition of falsely portraying his government as too liberal and sidelining Malays, who account for two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, making it difficult for him to reach out to the community.

“There is some truth to it (that Malays do not support the government) but it is because they have been inundated by claims that the government isn’t Malay and is against Islam,” Anwar said. “This is disgusting political slander.”

Opposition leader Hamzah Zainuddin claimed this week that Malays now viewed the PN bloc as their preferred political vehicle after his bloc garnered a landslide by-election victory on Saturday. He said the win was “a first-anniversary gift to (the premier) to mark the failure of his administration.”

Anwar said — in his interview —that victory was in an opposition stronghold state, and noted his government also won two other by-elections earlier, adding that the opposition was “delirious” for thinking it could wrest federal power.

“Our strength in Parliament is clear and cannot be threatened,” he said. “With this strength, it’s time to focus on developing the economy, raise the people’s welfare… and keep the negative elements away.”

Critics say Anwar’s focus in the past year has been overshadowed by his efforts to stay in power amid advances by the opposition. His government has taken steps to strengthen institutions and Parliament but has yet to deliver on many promised reforms, including limiting the premier’s tenure to two terms and repealing draconian laws such as the Sedition Act.

Anwar has long sold himself as being anti-corruption. But in December 2022, he appointed himself as finance minister in his new cabinet, garnering a wave of criticism. Some have also slammed prosecutors for dropping dozens of graft charges against his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in September.

However, Anwar stressed — during his anniversary interview Monday — that his focus on banishing corruption remained strong and supported by all parties in his unity government.

Facing an economic slowdown, a weak currency and worsening race relations, analysts said Anwars’s year in power was a mixed bag as he faced growing public distrust.

Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, a political science professor at the University Science of Malaysia, said Anwar had given Malaysia a more prominent voice on the international stage and done reasonably well in economic management given that the world is reeling from a global slowdown, but he remains dogged by domestic politics.

“The key challenge facing Anwar is stabilizing the economy amid a strengthening dollar. It is how Anwar can convince the Malays that he means well for them and doesn’t seek to usurp their constitutional right,” he said.

Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia political expert, said Anwar’s greatest achievement was “political survival.”

”He has stayed in power bringing a semblance of stability to local politics after five difficult years of instability and political uncertainty,” she said in an article on her blog.

Before Anwar, Malaysia has had four prime ministers since 2018.

But Welsh said the stability came at a cost of continued political patronage in the management of government bodies, with a mentality of “business as usual.”

“The bargain for power has left reform behind,” she said. “What is clear is that the mode of political insecurity runs deep… despite a strong majority not in need of the numbers, Anwar is still searching for support.”

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