Two rival blocs race to form Malaysia’s next government

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim

The two biggest winners of Malaysia’s general elections were competing yesterday to hammer out alliances to form a government after tightly-fought general elections failed to produce a clear winner, with the nation’s king to be the final arbiter.

The unprecedented hung Parliament after Saturday’s divisive polls saw the rise of Malay nationalists and plunged the country into a new crisis, stunning many Malaysians who hope for stability and unity after political turmoil that has seen three prime ministers since 2018 polls.

The Malay-centric Perikatan Nasional, or National Alliance, led by former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, was an underdog that enjoyed an unexpected surge of support with 73 out of 222 Parliamentary seats.

Its hard-line ally the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party was the biggest winner with a haul of 49 Parliamentary seats — more than double what it won in 2018. Known as PAS, it touts Sharia, rules three states and is now the single largest party. Its rise has stoked fears of greater Islamization in the country.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s reformist alliance topped the race with 82 federal seats, but fell far short of the 112 needed for a majority.

Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance ) President Muhyiddin Yassin 

The alliance led by the United Malays National Organization, which ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain until 2018, was the biggest loser. It won only 30 seats in its worst-ever performance as many Malays opted for Muhyiddin’s bloc, which has touted itself as a “caring, clean and stable” alternative.

“This election had reinforced identity politics. Given that no party has outright majority, the newly formed coalition government will need to unite the nation,” said Amir Fareed Rahim, director of strategy at public affairs at political risk consultancy KRA Group.

Many rural Malays, who form two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people — which includes large minorities of ethnic Chinese and Indians — fear they may lose their rights with greater pluralism under Anwar’s alliance. This, together with corruption in UMNO, has benefited Muhyiddin’s bloc.

Among other key election losers was two-time former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who at 97 is leading a separate Malay movement. He suffered a shocking defeat to the National Alliance.

Anwar and Muhyiddin, both 75, claimed they have enough support to secure a majority, but have not provided details.

Muhyiddin appeared to be leading as he met with one of the Borneo bloc leaders Sunday. He said negotiations are also underway with other groups.

“God willing, the federal government will be able to be formed in the near future,” he tweeted.

Anwar told a news conference that he had obtained support in writing from lawmakers for a simple majority. He said this will be submitted to King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who will have the final say. The king’s role is largely ceremonial in Malaysia, but he appoints the person he believes has majority support in Parliament as prime minister.

“We have obtained the majority … majority means more than 111,” Anwar said.

The palace said in a statement that Sultan Abdullah has asked political chiefs to submit their choice for prime minister and for the alliance that will be formed for a majority by today. 


Categories Asia-Pacific