Culture History Politics

How many times has Anwar Ibrahim ACTUALLY tried to be PM?

So, the Cilisos gang was playing Overwatch and talking about random stuff (we tight like that) the night before Ismail Sabri was confirm plus chop our new Prime Minister. Naturally, the conversation turned to the “who’s gonna be the next PM?” thing. Somewhere in the middle of it, a question suddenly struck one of our writers, and these words tumbled out of his mouth and into his mic: Guys, how many times has Anwar Ibrahim tried to be PM ah?

Foreshadowing of Anwar’s fate…?

No one in our gaming group knew the exact answer. None of our family members or friends seemed to know either. Now that the topic’s been brought up, we had to know. As per tradition, we shackled our interns to chairs rigged with explosives and had them dig up everything they could on Anwar’s political career.

A small disclaimer before we continue: there might be a lot of minutia that’ll be left out, because this isn’t meant to be a biography of Anwar Ibrahim but we’ll try to furnish y’all with as much context as possible, whenever possible. Well, let’s see if Anwar made more attempts to be PM than there are movies in the Fast & Furious franchise.


1998: He had the numbers, but… he crossed Tun M



A mere 11 years after he entered the Malaysian political scene, Anwar had risen to be Tun Mahathir’s Deputy PM (while also holding the position of Minister of Finance) in 1993. That’s as close as you can get to being top dog, and you know what? He was top dog for a little bit in 1997 – Tun M left Anwar in charge as acting PM when he left for a 2-month work holiday.

At this point, everyone thought he was gonna run the show eventually, and nothing could derail his meteoric momentum, except… After a series of disagreements with Tun M about the 97/98 Asian Econimic Crisis, Anwar was sacked from the government and booted from UMNO. Anwar proceeded to rally tens of thousands in a march behind the banner of “Reformasi”, calling for Tun M’s resignation on 20 September 1998.


Instead of toppling Tun M over, all he got for his trouble was a black eye courtesy of the Chief of Police at the time, and a stint in the lokap. He was slapped with sodomy and corruption charges nine days later (not saying anything but the timing’s kinda sus tho cough cough), and he was sentenced to 9 years of prison, effectively putting a cork in the wine bottle that is his political career… at least for a little while.

The conviction drew international criticism, with the governments of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a number of European powers issuing statements condemning the KL High Court’s decision. Most notably, ex-U.S. Vice President Al Gore decried the proceedings as a “show trial” that “mocked international standards of justice”.


2013: He had the numbers, but… BN had slightly better numbers

“You WILL vote for me… or else.” Img by Financial Times.


Aah, 2013, the year The Conjuring creeped into Malaysian theaters, and the year of Malaysian’s 13th General Election. Anwar’s been campaigning hardcore on his “Reformasi” platform for the past couple of years as the leader of the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (comprised of DAP, PKR and PAS). He was so sure that this year’s election was in the bag after the “political tsunami” of 2008:

I will try my best. I am confident we will win. But if not, I will step down. – Anwar Ibrahim

Was this gonna be his year?


…it very, very nearly was. Pakatan Rakyat did win the popular vote (51% over BN’s 49%), but BN managed to retain sufficient seats in Parliament to form a government (despite making the poorest showing in its history). Once again, victory had slipped through Anwar’s fingers. He went on a news conference shortly after the results were announced and accused BN of doing dirty stuff behind the scenes, including using immigrants as proxy voters. Rallies were held nationwide to protest the results, but no investigations were ever launched to suss out these claims.

As if to rub salt in his wounds, he had to go back to prison a second time in 2015 for another set of sodomy charges that were thrown at him in 2008 (again, sus timing). Richard Bennett, the Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director, condemned the incarceration, calling it “oppressive” and “deplorable”. Fortunately for Anwar, he didn’t have to serve out his entire sentence cos’ the Agong provided him a royal pardon 3 years later. With his pledge prior to the 2013 general election, was this the end of his PM dreams? Not really.


2020 part 1: He had the numbers, but… the Sheraton Move happened

A picture paints a thousand words. Img by Malaysia Today.


Leading up to the 2018 General Election, Najib had become a reviled figure due to the 1MDB scandal and introduction of the GST (Goods & Services Tax), among other perceived missteps. Tun M, who made a comeback to unseat Najib, captained Pakatan Harapan (comprised of KEADILAN, DAP and PAS) to sweep the 14th General Election. Before the election, Tun M actually promised to promised to hand the reins over to Anwar in 2020.

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Three months into 2020, the pressure was mounting on Tun M to keep his word, and the PM seat seemed just within Anwar’s reach, but…


2020 was a pretty cursed year for Malaysia in general, what with the invasion of COVID-19 and the implementation of the first MCO. Y’all remember what else happened that year? Here’s a one-word hint: hotel. The infamous Sheraton Move has been compared to a maneuver straight outta Game of Thrones, where Muhyiddin, Azmin Ali and various other politicians essentially staged a bloodless coup against Tun M.

That more or less struck down Anwar’s third attempt, since Tun M never got to fulfill his promise, and that brings us to…


2020 part 2: He had the numbers… wait, no, he didn’t

Img by Fadz on Twitter.


It wouldn’t be long before Anwar launched his fourth attempt at being PM – he held a press conference in September 2020 together with Wan Azizah and Saifuddin Nasution, claiming to have a “strong majority” to form a new Federal government.

With a solid and convincing majority, it means that as of this moment, the government of Muhyiddin Yassin has fallen… – Anwar Ibrahim

UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said he’d heard that many UMNO’s MPs were ready to defect to Anwar’s camp, which made Anwar’s words sound halfway legit, but Muhyiddin remained skeptical, saying that he was the rightful PM unless proven otherwise via constitutional processes.


The opposition leader did have an audience with the Agong in December, but the opposition leader got shot down in less than half an hour. One of the reasons for the rejection was – get this – Anwar didn’t have a list of the alleged Dewan Rakyat reps backing him. We’re torn on which was more disappointing: this, or M. Night Shyamalan’s Avatar flick.


2021: He had the numbers, but… Ismail Sabri had more

If you’re not sure what “laosai” is, ask a Chinese friend! Img by breakyourownnews.


By July 2021, Muhyiddin (now known as Mahiaddin) has been serving as Prime Minister for a year plus. His popularity rating with the rakyat was at an all time low AND UMNO pulled out harder than a dude who doesn’t wanna have kids. It got so bad that Abah had to come out in August to have a persidangan khas to convince everyone that he still had support from the majority of MPs. A day later, Anwar did what he does best – declare that the opposition has the numbers.

Everything came to a head on 15 August 2021 when Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Special Functions) announced that Mahiaddin would be resigning the very next day.


The race was on again, and most publications had Anwar and Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Mahiaddin’s Deputy as frontrunners to be Malaysia’s 9th PM. Does the “forever PM-in-waiting” have the numbers this time? Well… you guys know how it ended. If you don’t, Snape kills Dumbledore

Ismail Sabri ended up being the new PM.


Is it time we moved on from Anwar Ibrahim?

Anwar supporters waiting on him to eventually be PM.

By our count, Anwar has tried on 5 separate occasions to take the proverbial driver’s seat, and honestly, it makes sense; his political resume’s kiiiinda stacked. These are some of the things he’s done (and is still doing):

  • He’s been named “Asian of the Year” by Newsweek International for implementing measures to combat the effects of the 97/98 Asian Economic Crisis
  • The Foundation for the Future, an American education and advocacy non-profit organization dedicated to advancing space economy appointed him to be their Chairman and Honorary President of Accountability in 2006
  • He now heads the Caucus of Reform and Governance in Parliament

On the other hand, some people have voiced their concerns about the veteran politician. Shafie Apdal, the President of Parti Warisan Sabah recently suggested that it might be time to ditch Anwar and “rebrand” the opposition:

Anwar has done his level best to secure (support) but he has failed. So we have to look into the issue that once a leader has failed, we have to look into what are the mistakes, to ensure we are on a better footing in the future. – Shafie Apdal

Whether or not you agree with Shafie Apdal, you gotta give it to Anwar for trying all these decades to be PM. Also, if you feel like we missed something out, let us know in the FB comments, and we might add it in (given the info’s legit)!




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