KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Malaysia’s political leaders scramble to form a coalition government on Sunday after an election resulted in an unprecedented parliament in which no group was able to win a majority.
Longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin each said they could form a government with the support of other parties, which they did not name. Muhyiddin said he hopes to wrap up talks by Sunday afternoon, although negotiations could take days.
Here’s what’s happening and what to expect:
Anwar’s multi-ethnic Pakatan Harapan coalition won 82 seats in the lower house, less than the 112 needed for a majority but ahead of Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional alliance with 73 and Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s Barisan Nasional with 30.
Muhyiddin’s coalition, which includes an Islamist party that propagates Islamic Sharia law for the Southeast Asian nation, emerged as the third major bloc, dividing the vote more than expected.
It invaded the strongholds of Barisan, whose United Malays National Organization (UMNO) — long Malaysia’s dominant political force — had its worst record on record.
Analysts say the most likely government will again be a coalition of Muhyiddin’s bloc, Barisan and another group. But a minority government is possible if neither Anwar nor Muhyiddin can cobble together a majority.
Muhyiddin, who said he was open to working with any party except Anwar’s, said Sunday he would discuss partnerships with regional parties in the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo.
Anwar did not say who he would be working with. In an interview with Reuters this month, he ruled out a partnership with Muhyiddin’s and Ismail’s coalitions, citing fundamental differences.
Muhyiddin and Ismail’s coalition prioritizes the interests of the ethnic Malay majority, while Anwar’s coalition is multicultural. Race and religion are contentious issues in Malaysia, where the predominantly Muslim Malays form the majority, with ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
THE ROLE OF THE KING
King Al-Sultan Abdullah could potentially choose the next prime minister.
The monarch has a largely ceremonial role, but the constitution empowers him to appoint a lawmaker as prime minister whom he believes can command a majority in parliament.
Malaysian kings – the post rotates between states’ sultans – have rarely wielded that power, but they have gained influence amid political infighting in recent years.
When the government of veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad collapsed in 2020, King Al-Sultan elected Muhyiddin as prime minister after consulting all 222 lawmakers to decide who had the majority. When Muhyiddin’s block also collapsed, he chose Ismail.
Muhyiddin said on Sunday he had received instructions from the palace on how to form a government but did not reveal what they were. Anwar said he would submit a letter to the king expressing his support.
Political instability is expected to persist for Malaysia, which has seen three prime ministers in as many years due to power struggles.
The country is adjusting to the dwindling power of the UMNO and Barisan coalition, which had ruled uninterrupted for 60 years from independence to 2018.
The next coalition will not have a convincing majority and could be plagued by further power struggles that hurt the economy.
Voters frustrated by instability might resent a new government that includes the losing parties.
Reporting by Mei Mei Chu; Editing by A. Ananthalakshmi and William Mallard
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