Malaysia’s political maneuvering begins after indecisive election

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Voters queue to cast their ballots during the general election in Bera of Pahang state, Malaysia, on November 19, 2022.

Xinhua News Agency | Xinhua News Agency | fake images

Malaysia’s political leaders scrambled on Sunday to secure the support of their rivals a day after a general election produced a divided parliament, with no coalition winning a parliamentary majority.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said they could form a government with the support of other parties, whom they did not identify.

A record number of Malaysians voted, hoping to end a period of political uncertainty at a time of slowing economic growth and rising inflation in the Southeast Asian nation, which has had three prime ministers in as many years. years.

The instability reflects a political transformation in a country that for decades has been one of the most stable in a region that has seen its share of military coups, violent political uprisings and insurgencies.

Saturday’s election saw the biggest decline ever for a force that dominated politics from independence in 1957 to 2018, as well as gains for an Islamist party that has called for sharia law.

The formation of a government may require the involvement of the Malaysian king, whose largely ceremonial role includes the power to appoint as prime minister a lawmaker he believes will command a majority when no coalition can do so alone.

The palace on Sunday instructed the parties to each submit the name of a lawmaker it believes has a majority by 2 pm (0600 GMT) Monday.

Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan coalition won 82 seats in the lower house, down from a majority of 112 but slightly ahead of Muhyiddin Yassin’s alliance with 73.

The Barisan Nasional alliance of Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, whose United Malays National Organization (UMNO) had long been Malaysia’s dominant political force, suffered its worst electoral defeat, winning just 30 of the 178 seats it was contesting.

While voters rejected UMNO and the multi-ethnic Barisan coalition it leads for the second consecutive election, Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional coalition, in its first national contest, won support from the traditional Barisan base.

‘More divided’

“I think what we learned here is that the country is more divided,” said Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, deputy managing director of political risk consultancy BowerGroupAsia.

“With Perikatan Nasional making inroads into the UMNO vote bank, it shows that there are three legitimate coalitions in the future of Malaysian politics.”

Fighting against UMNO, which he once led, Mahathir Mohamad, 97 and Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, lost his seat in his first election defeat in 53 years.

A key winner in the election was the Islamist PAS party in the Perikatan coalition, which won the most seats of any party. Race and religion are issues that divide Malaysia, where the mostly Muslim Malays are the majority of the population, with sizeable Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities.

Smaller political blocs based in the Borneo island states of Sabah and Sarawak, which have sought greater autonomy, could play a decisive role if they sided with either coalition.

Muhyiddin said he had met with the Sarawak state leader and was in talks with other parties about forming a government.

If Anwar becomes prime minister, it would be a remarkable transformation for a politician who in 25 years has gone from Mahathir’s heir apparent to convicted sodomy inmate to leading opposition figure. He says the sodomy and corruption charges were politically motivated.

After being released from prison in 2018, he joined Muhyiddin and mentor-turned-foe-turned-ally Mahathir Mohamad to defeat Barisan, ending his six-decade rule, amid public anger against the government over the multi-billion-dollar scandal. of 1MDB.

That coalition collapsed after 22 months due to infighting over Mahathir’s promise to hand over the premiership to Anwar.

Muhyiddin briefly became prime minister, but his administration collapsed last year, paving the way for Barisan’s return to power under Ismail.

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