Malaysian election rivals race to form coalition ahead of Tuesday deadline

Both camps have until 2pm local time on Tuesday to win the support of smaller parties and designate a prime minister

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Tough negotiations to forge a coalition government were expected on Monday after Malaysia’s general election, which produced the country’s first hung parliament.

Two main rival blocs are trying to attract smaller parties after neither side won enough seats to form government. The Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, made major gains but the once-powerful United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) suffered significant losses.

The UMNO was rocked by a corruption scandal in 2018, which led to former prime minister Najib Razak being jailed.

Former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin — the country’s shortest-serving leader, who was in power between 2020 and 2021 — has sided with the PAS, a group known for its strict interpretation of religious law. His Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance) coalition won 73 seats out of 222 in the national assembly.

With new coalition partners, they are expected to secure at least 101 seats but they will need 112, more than half the seats, to form the next government.

Anwar Ibrahim’s rival Pakatan Harapan coalition won 81 seats, but some analysts believe he will face a more difficult challenge in building a larger coalition.

Mr Anwar Ibrahim said on Monday he is in talks with the party of Razak — who is still in jail for corruption — to form the next government. He has already held formal talks with the incumbent ruling bloc Barisan Nasional, which is dominated by UMNO.

He said the talks with his old foes were predicated on him becoming the prime minister, a dream he has held for more than two decades.

An agreement with the UMNO would give Anwar an extra 30 seats for a simple majority of 112.

UMNO dominated Malaysian politics for decades but registered its worst election performance since independence in 1957.

Both coalitions have until 2pm local time on Tuesday to designate a prime minister.

The latest election led to the Islamist PAS party becoming the largest in Mr Muhyiddin's bloc, sparking worries among analysts about its influence on national policy.

The party forced the cancellation of an annual craft beer festival in the capital Kuala Lumpur in 2017.

"If they [PAS] hold most of the cabinet and senior positions, this will inspire anxiety," Bridget Welsh of the University of Nottingham Malaysia told AFP.

She also said women's rights could be "potentially impacted".

This would not be PAS's first time in a governing coalition, but this time they have far greater numbers than before.

Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, deputy managing director at BowerGroupAsia advisory, said that PAS previously avoided pushing its agenda too strongly.

"However, PAS may be tempted to stamp its identity in the new administration ... especially after its overwhelming performance," he added.

Updated: November 21, 2022, 11:06 AM