Malaysian elections: country's first hung parliament leads to race for majority coalition

Alliances led by Anwar Ibrahim and Muhyiddin Yassin emerged the biggest winners in Saturday's snap election

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, centre, with senior leaders of his Pakatan Harapan coalition in Subang, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur on Sunday. Mr Anwar has been on the cusp of power several times in his political career. EPA
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Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s reformist Pakatan Harapan and a pro-Malay rival grouping led by former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin are competing to form the next government after snap elections on Saturday led to the country's first hung parliament.

Mr Anwar and Mr Muhyiddin, who are both seeking to become the country's fourth prime minister in four years, must try to persuade a number of parties to join their respective alliances.

Party leaders have until Monday afternoon to inform the nation’s monarch of their choice of prime minister and the alliances they have formed.

Mr Anwar said early on Sunday that he had agreements on an alliance that made up the 111 seats needed for a majority in the 220-member parliament.

When pressed about who would enter into an alliance with him, Mr Anwar did not say, but said that commitments had been made in writing and would be submitted to the king for endorsement.

Mr Muhyiddin also said he was in talks to form the next government.

Malaysia, home to 33 million people, will need a ruling coalition with a strong mandate to tackle soaring food prices and an economy reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

At the end of counting, Mr Anwar's Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition won 82 seats and Mr Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional took 73, official results showed.

Islamist gains

The once-mighty Barisan Nasional alliance — dominated by jailed former leader Najib Razak's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) — trailed far behind the rest with 30 seats, its worst performance since Malaysia won independence in 1957.

The bloc said it accepted the results and that it was a “big signal from the citizens towards us”.

The election also led to the rise of an Islamist party allied with Mr Muhyiddin's group. The Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, backs a hardline interpretation of Sharia.

Ethnic Malay parties have campaigned on a platform that claims that they would lose their rights if non-Malays, such as Mr Anwar's multi-ethnic bloc, are elected.

Voter turnout in Sunday's election was high, and two hours before polling closed it was at 70 per cent. Some voters said they hoped for political stability and economic improvement.

Ei Sun Oh of the Pacific Research Centre of Malaysia said if Mr Muhyiddin is to form the government, the country is “likely to see a conservative theocratic coalition that will focus on religious and racial supremacy at the expense of effective economic management”.

“Perikatan Nasional's strong message of clean government was able to make inroads into UMNO's vote bank and captured key UMNO seats,” said Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, deputy managing director at BowerGroupAsia.

One of the high-profile losses in the election was that of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, 97, who was roundly defeated in his constituency.

Mr Anwar campaigned on a promise to fight corruption, after Najib's ruling party was tainted by a series of such cases, including the one that sent the former prime minister to jail for 12 years.

A perennial runner-up in Malaysian politics, Mr Anwar endured two prison terms and had been on the cusp of power several times in his political career.

Because of infighting in the two successive governments since 2018, UMNO crept back into power last year, despite lingering corruption allegations, and had sought a stronger mandate from this election.

Corruption was a main issue during the campaign, with opposition parties repeatedly warning that if UMNO won, Najib could walk free and charges against other party leaders could be dropped.

Malaysia’s king, picked from nine royal families every five years, could play a major role in determining who forms the government.

The ruler's involvement in politics was unheard of while UMNO dominated national politics with its allies for six decades. But as the party’s control gradually waned, the monarchy has had to step in.

Sultan Abdul Samad, the current king, named Mr Muhyiddin as prime minister without a parliamentary vote after Mr Mahathir abruptly resigned in 2020. He stepped in again and appointed Ismail Sabri Yaakob as Prime Minister 15 months later when public anger over the government’s handling of the economy and the pandemic forced Mr Muhyiddin to resign.

Updated: November 20, 2022, 11:34 AM