Parliament’s unprecedentedly hung after Saturday’s divisive polls saw the rise of Malaysia’s Perikatan Nasional, or National Alliance, led by former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
It surprised many Malaysians who had hoped for stability and unity after the political turmoil that has seen three prime ministers since the 2018 polls.
Muhyiddin’s alliance was an underdog that enjoyed an unexpected wave of votes with 73 of the 222 seats in parliament. Its staunch ally is the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, the biggest winner with 49 seats – more than double what it won in 2018.
Known as PAS, it praises Sharia law, governs three states and is now the largest party. Its rise has fueled fears of more Islamization in the country.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s reformist multi-ethnic alliance led the race with 82 federal seats, but fell far short of the 112 needed for a majority.
During negotiations on Sunday, Muhyiddin’s coalition moved closer to victory after securing the support of political parties in two states on the island of Borneo that won a total of 32 federal seats. He still needs a nod from another key player, the United Malays National Organization, to get a majority.
The arrangement, if confirmed by the king, means that Muhyiddin will return as prime minister..
The once powerful alliance led by UMNO, which has ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain until corruption scandals toppled it in 2018, is expected to return to government as a junior partner.
UMNO was the biggest loser by just 30 seats in its worst-ever performance as many Malays opted for Muhyiddin’s bloc, which has touted itself as a “caring, clean and stable” alternative.
“This election had strengthened identity politics. Since no party has an absolute majority, the newly formed coalition government will have to unite the nation,” said Amir Fareed Rahim, director of strategy in public affairs at political risk consultancy KRA Group.
Many rural Malaysians, who make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s population of 33 million – including large minorities of ethnic Chinese and Indians – fear losing their rights to increased pluralism under Anwar’s alliance. This, along with the corruption in UMNO, has benefited Muhyiddin’s bloc.
Among other major electoral losers was two-time former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who leads a separate Malaysian movement at the age of 97. He suffered a shock defeat against the National Alliance.
Anwar and Muhyiddin, both 75, previously claimed they each had enough support to secure a majority.
Anwar told a press conference that he had received written support from lawmakers for a simple majority. He said he would put it to King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who will have the last word.
The king’s role is largely ceremonial in Malaysia, but he appoints the person he believes has a majority in parliament as prime minister.
“We got the majority…majority means more than 111,” Anwar said.
The palace said in a statement that Sultan Abdullah has asked political leaders to submit their choice of prime minister and for the alliance that will be formed for a majority on Monday.
The monarch said his decision will be final as he urged Malaysians to accept the outcome to ensure a stable government.
Muhyiddin took power in March 2020, leaving the Anwar alliance and joining hands with the UMNO-led coalition in a move that led to the collapse of the government. The partnership was beset by infighting and he resigned after 17 months.
UMNO leader Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said in a statement that his alliance is ready to put aside differences to ensure a stable government can be formed.
Zahid, who is battling dozens of corruption charges, is under pressure to resign after UMNO’s second thrashing at the polls.