Malaysia faces hung parliament for the first time in history

Malaysia was facing a parliament with no absolute majority for the first time in its history, as support for a conservative Islamic alliance prevented major coalitions from winning a simple majority in a general election.

Without a clear winner, political uncertainty could persist as Malaysia faces slowing economic growth and rising inflation. He has had three prime ministers in as many years.

The fact that the main parties do not get a majority means that a combination of them would have to build a majority alliance to form a government. Malaysia’s constitutional monarch can also get involved, as he has the power to appoint as prime minister a legislator he believes may command a majority.

Longtime Leader of the Opposition anwar abrahamThe coalition won the most seats in Saturday’s general election, results from the Electoral Commission showed.

The biggest surprise came from former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who led his Perikatan Nasional bloc to a strong showing, garnering support from traditional strongholds of the incumbent government.

Muhyiddin’s alliance includes a Malay-focused conservative party and an Islamist party that has promoted sharia, or Islamic law. Race and religion are issues that divide Malaysia, where the ethnic Malay Muslim population constitutes the majority and ethnic Chinese and Indians are the minorities.

Both Anwar and Muhyiddin claimed support to form a government, although they did not reveal which parties they were allied with.

Muhyiddin said he hoped to finish the discussions on Sunday afternoon. His alliance is a junior partner in current Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s ruling coalition and he could work with them again.

Anwar said he would send a letter to King Al-Sultan Abdullah of Malaysia detailing his support.

If Anwar takes the top job, it would cap a remarkable journey for a politician who, in 25 years, has gone from heir apparent to the prime ministership, to a prisoner convicted of sodomy to the country’s top opposition figure.

Since 2015, Malaysian politics have been clouded by the 1MDB corruption scandal, which saw billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money embezzled out of the country. He ousted the former prime minister, Najib Razak, who is now serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption.

Three prime ministers have ruled the Southeast Asian country since a feverish, record-turnout election was fought four years ago on the key issue of corruption.

Malaysia has 222 parliamentary seats, but polls were taken for only 220 on Saturday.

The Election Commission said Anwar’s multi-ethnic Pakatan Harapan coalition won a total of 82 seats, while Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional alliance won 73 seats. Ismail’s Barisan coalition won 30. One seat was not announced as of 21:00 GMT.

“The key takeaway from this election is that Perikatan has successfully disrupted the two-party system,” said Adib Zalkapli, director of political consultancy Bower Group Asia.

Barisan and Pakatan have long been Malaysia’s main blocs.

Barisan said he accepted the people’s decision, but stopped short of conceding defeat. The coalition said in a statement that it remains committed to forming a stable government.

Veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad meanwhile, he suffered his first electoral defeat in 53 years in a coup that could mark the end of a seven-decade political career, losing his seat to Muhyiddin’s alliance.

A record number of Malaysians voted on Saturday, hoping to end a streak of political uncertainty that has resulted in three prime ministers amid uncertain economic times and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The political landscape has been shaky since Barisan lost the 2018 election after ruling for 60 years since independence.

Anwar made a name for himself as a student activist in various Muslim youth groups in Kuala Lumpur in the late 1960s, as the country was reeling from the protracted communist insurgency of the Malaysian Emergency.

Arrested in 1974 in student protests against rural poverty, Anwar was sentenced to 20 months in jail. Despite his reputation as an agitator, he later confounded liberal supporters in 1982 by joining the conservative United Malays National Organization (UMNO) led by Mahathir.

The freed politician was the heir apparent to then-Prime Minister Mahathir until 1998, when he was sacked and accused of corruption and sodomy. He was found guilty the following year, a ruling that led to massive street demonstrations.

The sodomy conviction was overturned, but the corruption verdict was never overturned, barring him from running for political office until a decade later.

In 2008, after his ban on political participation was lifted, he was indicted on new charges of sodomy.

Following an appeal of his acquittal on those charges, he was convicted again and imprisoned in 2015. Human rights groups were highly critical when the conviction was upheld, calling it politically motivated, a claim the government denied.

Anwar was released from prison in 2018 after teaming with old foe Mahathir and Muhyiddin to defeat Barisan for the first time in Malaysian history, amid public anger against the government over the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal.

That coalition collapsed after 22 months in power due to infighting over Mahathir’s promise to hand over the premiership to Anwar. Muhyiddin briefly became prime minister, but his administration collapsed last year, paving the way for Barisan’s return to power under Ismail.

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