In Malaysia, Anwar’s Alliance With UMNO Could Be a Dead End

In Malaysia, Anwar’s Alliance With UMNO Could Be a Dead End
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim speaks at a press conference at the prime minister's office in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Dec. 2, 2022 (AP photo by Vivian Loo).

After trying vainly for decades to become the prime minister of Malaysia—and serving two jail terms in part as a price of that effort—Anwar Ibrahim finally attained the position late last year. Following Malaysia’s general elections last November, in which no coalition won the majority of seats in parliament needed to form a government, the country witnessed five days of furious horse-trading among party leaders. The 75-year-old Anwar ultimately assembled a coalition with enough votes to form the next government that he now leads as prime minister.

To do so, he was forced into some alliances with strange bedfellows. For instance, Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan coalition teamed up with the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO. Malaysia’s oldest political party and leading member of the Barisan Nasional coalition, the UMNO dominated Malaysian politics fromthe country’s independence in 1957 until the coalition’s electoral defeat in 2018. That loss came in the aftermath of the 1MDB scandal, in which former UMNO Prime Minister Najib Razak was personally incriminated in an embezzlement scheme targeting the country’s sovereign wealth fund.

Anwar’s alliance with the UMNO might have seemed perplexing. Pakatan Harapan has a clean reputation, while the UMNO has been enmeshed in numerous scandals prior to the massive 1MDB scheme, for which Najib was subsequently convicted and imprisoned.

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