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Malaysia’s new PM Anwar says first priority is cost of living

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KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on Friday said his primary focus would be on the cost of living as he takes office with a slowing economy and a country deeply split after a close election.

Datuk Seri Anwar, 75, was sworn in as premier on Thursday, capping a three-decade political journey from a protege of veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad to protest leader, a prisoner convicted of sodomy and opposition figurehead.

Mr Anwar, who was appointed by Malaysia’s King on Thursday following an inconclusive election, said his primary concern was the economy and that he would have a smaller Cabinet than those of previous administrations.

“My priority now is addressing the cost of living,” he told a news conference after reporting for duty at the prime minister’s office.

Mr Anwar has yet to announce any Cabinet appointments for his coalition government. He had earlier indicated there would be two deputy prime ministers in his Cabinet – one from former ruling alliance Barisan and another from smaller political blocs in Malaysia Borneo.

His appointment ended five days of unprecedented post-election crisis.

His rival, former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, had refused to concede, challenging Mr Anwar to prove his majority in Parliament. But on Friday, Mr Muhyiddin said he accepted Mr Anwar’s appointment and his bloc would play the role of the opposition.

Mr Mahathir, another of Mr Anwar’s long-time rivals, congratulated the new Prime Minister in a message on Twitter. The pair’s on-off feuds have dominated Malaysian politics for the past two decades.

Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) said it would discuss an offer from Mr Anwar to join a unity government, as the Islamist party that made unprecedented gains in the elections positions itself as the key representative of the Malay community.

PAS won the most seats of any single party in last Saturday’s election and is poised to hold considerable sway in Malaysian politics whether it joins Mr Anwar’s government or stays in the opposition.

On Friday morning, Mr Anwar arrived at the Perdana Putra, which houses the Prime Minister’s Office, for his first day of work.

Dressed in a baju Melayu, he waved to journalists camped outside the building and mingled with civil servants at the lobby before proceeding to his office on the 5th floor of the building.

Mr Anwar said that the people of Malaysia had long been awaiting change.

“We will never compromise on good governance, the anti-corruption drive, judicial independence and the welfare of ordinary Malaysians,” he said late on Thursday.

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