For Anwar Ibrahim’s supporters, his appointment as Malaysia’s new prime minister has been a long time coming.
The 75-year-old opposition leader secured the Southeast Asian country’s top job on Thursday after the king intervened in the political deadlock that followed last weekend’s inconclusive general election and named him the country’s 10th prime minister.
It was a remarkable comeback for Anwar, who spent nearly three decades in the opposition, including 10 years in prison on charges of sodomy and corruption that he claims were politically motivated.
Many Malaysians responded on Twitter with joyful disbelief.
“I was at the airport when our 10pm announcement was made,” Twitter user @itsraenu_ wrote. “I heard people screaming and saw people smiling from ear to ear.”
“The resurgence of Anwar is something to draw inspiration from for many generations to come,” Twitter user @CHKen_2 wrote. “He waited 24 years for this, went through all sorts of political underhandedness and even endured imprisonment – but he never gave up on his principles. Keep believing.”
Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, looked poised to take the top job in 1998, before being sacked from the government after falling out with then-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad over his handling of the Asian financial crisis. Anwar was then charged with sodomy – a crime in Malaysia – and corruption. Tens of thousands took to the streets in defense of the charismatic leader and his calls for “reformasi” or reform.
But the following year he was imprisoned.
Anwar was acquitted of sodomy charges in 2004, but was convicted again in 2015 on similar charges. From jail in 2018, he coordinated an opposition alliance and even joined forces with his former mentor and enemy Mahathir to overthrow then-Prime Minister Najib Razak amid the multibillion-dollar corruption scandal at state fund 1MDB.
At the time, Anwar was appointed the official prime minister-in-waiting but was again denied the post as renewed clashes with Mahathir brought down their government. Amid the instability, Najib’s United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which voters had rejected outright in the 2018 vote, returned to government, though Najib himself was jailed following the first of five trials linked to 1MDB.
For Anwar’s supporters, his rise to the top after decades of turmoil is a testament to the power of perseverance.
Anwar “taught us never to give up on dreams,” Twitter user @aidarazman wrote. “PM at age 75? We still have so much to experience.”
“It’s hard not to get emotional watching this knowing the challenges he and his family have faced,” @edwardkuruvilla captioned a photo of Anwar’s swearing-in. “May your tenure be great,” he added.
Many supporters of the new leader also poked fun at Mahathir, now 97 and accused of thwarting Anwar’s ambitions. The former prime minister failed to defend his seat in Saturday’s election and failed to win even the 12.5 percent of the vote needed to regain the thousands of Malaysian ringgit he had as an electoral guarantee paid.
“God made sure Mahathir lived long enough to see Anwar Ibrahim become Prime Minister of Malaysia,” Twitter user @_nsyakinah wrote. https://twitter.com/_nsyakinah/status/1595739143413280774?s=20&t=_CR3i0FbL_ONm7asCleuQQ
“Remember that Dr Mahathir didn’t just live to see his deposit wiped out in an election and his only political aim for the past 30 years, to stop Anwar Ibrahim from becoming Prime Minister, finally happened…but as a former Prime Minister he will become invited to attend Anwar’s swearing in ceremony as well,” Twitter user @amirulruslan wrote.
“What a year,” wrote @mhmgrgie. “Najib is going to jail. Mahathir loses his deposit and now Anwar is prime minister. Historical would be an understatement…”
Anwar’s supporters also took a moment to appreciate his wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who they say played an important role in his rise to power.
Twitter user @JustinTWJ described the 69-year-old as the “Mother of Reformasi”, citing her role in leading Anwar’s Reformasi movement after his imprisonment and her role in mobilizing the alliance that toppled Najib. “I can’t imagine how much strength she has to do it all.”
Twitter user @tsimitha wrote: “This incredible woman who was at the heart of the Reformasi movement made this day possible! Women are born leaders!”
For his part, Anwar said on Twitter that he would perform the tasks entrusted to him with the “utter humility”.
“Without your support and commitment, we couldn’t achieve this today,” he added.