Rival blocs claim majority in Malaysian election stalemate

Rival blocs claim majority in Malaysian election stalemate


Rival blocs claimed on Sunday they had secured the support they needed to form a government after Malaysia’s hotly contested poll failed to emerge with a clear majority of parliamentary seats.

Veteran opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said his coalition had enough seats to form the country’s next government that would allow him to become prime minister.

Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin – who heads the rival grouping Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance) – also said he was in talks to form the next government after Saturday’s elections.

The standoff comes in a country that has changed governments three times in as many years.

Malaysia, home to 33 million people, needs a governing coalition with a strong mandate to deal with soaring food prices and an economy reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic.

While both leading political blocs claimed victory, neither offered details of the alliances they would form to form the government.

“We now have the majority to form a government,” Anwar said at a dawn news conference after hours of frantic horse-trading throughout the night.

When asked who would form an alliance with him, Anwar gave no names, but said the promises had been made in writing and would be submitted to the king for confirmation.

At the end of the vote count, Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition won 82 seats and Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional 73, official results showed.

– Islamist party wins –

The once-powerful Barisan Nasional — dominated by jailed ex-leader Najib Razak’s United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party — trailed far behind the rest with just 30 seats, its worst performance since Malaysia gained independence in 1957.

The transplant-stained bloc said it accepts the results and says it’s a “big signal to us from citizens”.

The election also saw the rise of an Islamist party allied to Muhyiddin’s group. The Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) supports an uncompromising interpretation of Islamic law.

Ethnic Malay parties have fought on a platform that claims that if non-Malays – like Anwar’s multi-ethnic bloc – are elected, members of the Malaysian majority ethnicity would lose their rights.

Oh Ei Sun of the Pacific Research Center of Malaysia said that if Muhyiddin can 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 governance.”

“Perikatan Nasional’s strong message of clean government penetrated the UMNO vote bank and captured key UMNO seats,” said Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, deputy general manager of BowerGroupAsia.

One of the most prominent losses in the election was former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 97, who was flatly defeated in his constituency.

– Anwar’s Last Chance –

Anwar struggled on promises to fight corruption after Najib’s ruling party was tainted by a spate of bribery cases, including one that jailed the former prime minister for 12 years.

A consistent runner-up in Malaysian politics, Anwar has endured two prison sentences and has stood on the brink of power several times in his political career.

Turnout in Sunday’s election was high – already at 70 percent two hours before the polls closed – and those who spoke to AFP said they hoped for political stability and economic improvement.

The results marked the latest electoral humiliation for UMNO after it suffered a stunning defeat in the 2018 general election amid anger over the 1MDB scandal.

Najib was at the center of this storm and was imprisoned for his role in it.

Due to power struggles in the two successive governments since 2018, UMNO crept back into power last year despite persistent allegations of corruption and had sought a stronger mandate in this election.

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

The 1MDB scandal – which diverted billions of dollars in state funds to Beverly Hills real estate, a superyacht, a Hollywood film and Najib’s own bank account – sparked investigations in Singapore, Switzerland and the United States.

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