Malaysia was left without a government as King Al-Sultan Abdullah said he needed more time to choose the next prime minister after the two main coalitions failed to secure a simple majority in the weekend’s general election, resulting in a hung parliament.

On Tuesday, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had an audience with the king after neither received majority support from the 222-member parliament.

Muhyiddin said he turned down a request from the monarch to form a unity government with Anwar.

Anwar said there was no doubt about forming a minority government for now. He said during their meeting, the king spoke of wanting a strong government “that is more inclusive in terms of race, religion or region” and one that can focus on the economy.

The monarch can nominate anyone he thinks will have the majority. “Let me make a decision quickly,” he told reporters outside the National Palace.

How did we get here?

Outgoing Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob called Saturday’s election early under pressure from his own party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), who said it would help restore the election. stability after three prime ministers in almost as many years.

But for the first time in Malaysia’s history, the election resulted in a hung parliament without one party or coalition winning the majority needed to form a government.

The Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition led by Anwar won 82 seatsmeaning it needed the support of at least 30 more MPs to secure a majority of 112 seats in parliament.

The rival coalition Perikatan Nasional (PN) led by Muhyiddin won 73 seats, while the coalition Barisan Nasional (BN), dominated by UMNO, came third with 30 seats. Other key parties to the negotiations come from the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) has 23 representatives in the new parliament, while Sabah-based Gabungan Parti Rakyat (GPR) has six. Warisan, another Sabah-based party, has three.

A young male voter shows his inked finger after casting his vote in Malaysia
A young voter shows his inked finger after casting his vote during the general election at a polling station in Alor Setar, Kedah, Malaysia [File: JohnShen Lee/AP]

Old rivalry

The politicians involved in the discussions have allegiances and rivalries dating back years, complicated by Malaysia’s multicultural society – the majority of the people are ethnic Malaysian Muslims, but with substantial minorities of Chinese, Indian and indigenous people who, among other things, have the following Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism. Race and religion can be divisive.

Anwar began his political career as a student activist and founded the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia in 1971, known by its Malaysian abbreviation ABIM.

He later joined UMNO where he quickly rose through the ranks to become Finance Minister and deputy to then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, but was abruptly dismissed in September 1998. Mahathir accused Anwar of corruption and sodomy, a crime in Malaysia, and thousands took to the streets to protest.

Anwar’s imprisonment led to calls for reform and the creation of the multi-racial Keadilan Party, which means justice in Malay, a vital pillar of the PH coalition.

PH also includes the multiracial but mainly Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP), which is unpopular with conservative Malaysians, and the reformist Islamist party Amanah.

It is also supported by MUDA, a youth party which has one seat in the new parliament.

The rise of the reform movement in the 2000s and beyond has led to a substantial realignment of Malaysian politics.

BN, a race-based coalition that also includes parties representing Malaysians of Chinese and Indian descent, once dominated the post-independence political landscape, but first lost power in 2018 — to PH — amid the billion-dollar scandal over the 1MDB financial scandal.

1MDB was set up as a state fund to boost new investment in Malaysia, but researchers say the money went elsewhere.

BN’s performance over the weekend was the worst ever. The main beneficiary of the coalition’s woes is PN, a conservative Malaysian group.

The coalition includes Bersatu, founded by UMNO members angered by 1MDB, and expanded by former Keadilan members whose defection led to the collapse of the PH government in February 2020.

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