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Malaysians left guessing on next PM

By PRIME SARMIENTO in Hong Kong | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-11-23 07:09

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim attends a news conference outside the National Palace, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia November 22, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

As parties woo partners, king stresses stability in talks with coalition chiefs

Malaysian politics remains in limbo with the country's monarch setting a new timeline for choosing the next prime minister.

Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah summoned on Tuesday Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister and leader of Pakatan Harapan, or PH, and Muhyiddin Yassin, a former prime minister and leader of Perikatan Nasional, or PN, following tightly contested elections on Saturday that ended in a hung parliament.

The two coalitions secured the most number of seats in the elections, with PH winning 82 seats and PN 73. However, one needs to win at least 112 posts in the 222-seat parliament in order to form the next federal government.

Southeast Asia's third-biggest economy has a constitutional monarchy, and the king has the power to choose a prime minister.

In a news briefing after he met with the king at the Istana Negara (National Palace), Anwar said that no decision has been made on the next prime minister and that Sultan Abdullah wishes to form a stable and inclusive government.

"The new timeline is to the discretion of the Agong," Anwar was quoted by local media as saying. Agong refers to the king, who is known by his official title as Yang di-Pertuan Agong (meaning "One who is made Supreme Lord" in Malay). Muhyiddin didn't speak to reporters after he met with the king.

The king has likewise summoned the Barisan Nasional, or BN, for a meeting on Wednesday morning to find out who has the confidence of the majority. BN is the longest-ruling political coalition and won 30 seats in the weekend elections.

"What is clear is that neither PH nor PN has a majority, and by insisting to stay out as opposition, no coalition can have a majority," said Wong Chin Huat, professor of governance studies at Kuala Lumpur's Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia at Sunway University. "However, since some BN MPs have expressed their preference for one side, the latest instruction from the Palace for 30 BN parliamentarians to be called in individually means that a majority may be constructed by way of individual endorsements, which gives no guarantee to political stability."

Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said it would take a while to build a coalition government given that other parties are "wavering as to which side to support".

"And the king wants to make sure the ruling coalition is long-lasting," Oh said. He has alluded to the fractious Malaysian politics in the past few years that has been marked by infighting in the ruling coalition. The country has had three prime ministers in four years.

Hopes voiced

James Chin, professor of Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania in Australia, said the next prime minister has to build a stable coalition government and that must include a strong Malay party. The Malays comprise more than 60 percent of Malaysia's multiethnic population.

In reaching out to potential allies, Anwar met up with representatives of the BN alliance. But BN decided to be neutral, with party leaders saying they are ready to be in the opposition. PH and PN sought the support of parties based in East Malaysia as they were once touted as potential kingmakers. The Sabah-based Parti Warisan said it is in favor of a PH-BN coalition. The Gabungan Parti Sarawak, or GPS, which won 23 seats, said it would leave it to the king's wisdom to decide on the next prime minister. GPS also said it would work with PN, BN and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah in building a coalition government.

Sivananthi Thanenthiran, executive director of the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, said all political parties "have committed to a reform agenda in one way or another".

"And that is essential to get the country back on track," she said.


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