Spotlight on Malaysia’s king to resolve election stalemate

Malaysia’s king has failed to reach a decision on whom to pick as prime minister after meeting the leaders of two rival blocs, and summoned lawmakers from a political bloc that has held out its support

Updated - November 24, 2022 02:25 pm IST

Published - November 23, 2022 05:20 am IST - KUALA LUMPUR

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speaks to media outside the entrance of the National Palace after an audience with the Malaysia’s King in Kuala Lumpur, on November 22, 2022.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speaks to media outside the entrance of the National Palace after an audience with the Malaysia’s King in Kuala Lumpur, on November 22, 2022. | Photo Credit: AP

Malaysia’s king on Tuesday failed to reach a decision on whom to pick as Prime Minister after meeting the leaders of two rival blocs, and summoned lawmakers from a political bloc that has held out its support.

A general election on last Saturday was supposed to provide stability after political turmoil led to three Prime Ministers since 2018. Instead, it produced no outright winner, leaving the nation with a leadership crisis.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope, topped the polls with 83 parliamentary seats, but failed to reach the 112 needed for a majority. He has been locked in a battle to form a majority government with former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, whose Malay-centric Perikatan Nasional, or National Alliance, won 72 seats.

Uncertainty deepened after the long-ruling alliance led by the United Malays National Organization said on Tuesday it would not support any group to form a government and would remain in the opposition. The backing of UMNO's National Front, which has 30 seats, is crucial to tilt the balance.

After asking parties to submit their choices for Prime Minister, King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah found that no lawmaker had majority support to clinch the top job, the palace said.

He then summoned Mr. Anwar and Mr. Muhyiddin, both 75, to the palace but failed to resolve the impasse. The king’s role is largely ceremonial but he appoints the person he believes has majority support in Parliament as Prime Minister.

Mr. Muhyiddin was reported by local media as saying that he rejected the monarch’s proposal for a unity government. He said he submitted 115 sworn oaths from lawmakers supporting him but this was deemed insufficient.

Mr. Anwar said Sultan Abdullah expressed his desire for a stable and inclusive government during the meeting.

“For now there is no question of forming a minority government,” Mr. Anwar said, adding that all sides will wait for the King’s final decision.

The palace said Sultan Abdullah has summoned all 30 National Front lawmakers to the palace on Wednesday and will meet them individually to decide who among the two leaders has support to form a government.

Sultan Abdullah urged the nation to stay calm and give him time to end the deadlock. “We have to move forward for the sake of our beloved nation," he told reporters outside the palace.

Mr. Muhyiddin’s bloc includes a hard-line Islamic ally, stoking fears of right-wing politics that may deepen racial divides in the multiethnic nation if it comes to power. The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party was the biggest winner with a haul of 49 seats — more than double what it won in 2018. Known as PAS, it backs Islamic Shariah law, rules three states, and is now the single largest party.

The King has faced similar situations before when Mr. Muhyiddin abandoned Mr. Anwar’s ruling alliance in early 2020, causing its collapse, and joined hands with UMNO to form a new government. Sultan Abdullah at the time requested written oaths from all 222 lawmakers and later interviewed them separately before picking Muhyiddin as Prime Minister.

But Mr. Muhyiddin's government was beset by internal rivalries and he resigned after 17 months. For a second time, the monarch sought written statements from lawmakers before appointing UMNO’s Ismail Sabri Yaakob as the new leader.

Mr. Ismail called for early polls at the behest of UMNO leaders as the party was convinced it could make a strong comeback amid a fragmented opposition. Instead, ethnic majority Malays, fed up with corruption and infighting in the party, opted for Muhyiddin’s bloc.

Many rural Malays, who form two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people — which includes large minorities of ethnic Chinese and Indians — also fear they may lose their rights with greater pluralism under Anwar’s multiethnic alliance.

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