Despite being so much a part of the Malaysian political landscape for three decades and within an arm’s reach of the top office twice, Anwar Ibrahim being sworn in on Nov 24 as Prime Minister by the Malaysian King was almost a seeing is believing story. He has made it. Will he last long? Will he prove all his naysayers wrong?

He said his unity government will consist of the Pakatan Harapan backed by former ruling party Barisan Nasional, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), other parties and independents. As of Saturday, he has the support of 148 MPs – or two-thirds of lawmakers in the 222-member Parliament. And he will put this to the test on Dec 19.

What an extraordinary achievement – taking the oath of office plus gathering a two-thirds majority. It was not supposed to be like this. 

The whole idea of holding GE15 was to resolve the wrangling between Perikatan Nasional and Barisan Nasional and bring stability to government. When the outgoing PM Ismail Sabri of Barisan Nasional called for GE15, the then Perikatan Nasional/BN government was confident of being returned with a wider margin. Barisan Nasional was thought to be resurgent. So many people were wearing Bossku t-shirts. The East Malaysian ruling parties/coalitions were openly declaring their undying allegiance to the federal parties. 

PN did fairly well but not quite enough. BN had a whacking. Sarawak and Sabah results were largely stable and each ruling party was repeating its readiness to join the federal partners. 

From day one after the results, Pakatan Harapan, which garnered 82 seats (with MUDA included) making it the largest bloc, was steadily out-shouting PN that it got the numbers to form a government which in the earlier stage, obviously had to have BN in the bag. 

Sarawak and Sabah followed suit, especially after Democratic Action Party leaders apologised to the Gabungan Parti Sarawak. Premier Abang Johari Openg and the GPS said they accepted the apology tendered by DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke for “any statements made by any DAP leaders that offended the state government and the people of Sarawak”. DAP leader Lim Guan Eng said in his Facebook that “the future of the country is more important” and asked for a fresh start “to cooperate together to preserve the diversity, inclusiveness and unity of our multi-racial and multi-cultural society as well as protect our Federal Constitution for the benefit of all in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak”.

The growing strength of the pro-Islam PAS has also been seen as an unwelcome trend by East Malaysians. The party now has 49 seats, making it the biggest party in Parliament. 

It is for Anwar now to analyse the results. 

What does the end of the Mahathir Mohamad era mean?  The 97-year-old ex-PM lost his seat and deposit in Langkawi, his longtime base. So did UMNO stalwart Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in Gua Musang. I remember my ex-colleague Ismail Kassim, who was the Straits Times Malaysia correspondent, calling me a couple of times from Gua Musang in Kelantan.

How can PH gain the trust of rural voters in northern Peninsular Malaysia? 

Will he be the bridge between urban and rural Malaysians? Will a strong international standing enhance his credentials? The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan actually called Anwar when he was having his first press conference as PM! 

What does Anwar have to do as PM elected on a reformasi  platform? A wiser person at 75 may not have the zeal of a young ABIM champion but with an almost incredible background of battling odds and pressure, he should have little difficulty getting the backing of young Malaysians keen to shine the light on the right way forward. 

Malaysia cannot but welcome the homecoming of its prodigal but prodigious son.

Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, was a senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company.