Malaysia’s main political coalitions have spent the past two days in talks to secure enough support from lawmakers to form a new government after inconclusive elections over the weekend.
King Al-Sultan Abdullah gave them a deadline of 2:00 p.m. (0600 GMT) on Tuesday to submit affidavits of support. The state news agency Bernama said it would make a decision soon.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob called the snap election amid pressure from his own party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), saying it would help restore stability after three prime ministers in nearly as many. of years.
Here’s what you need to know about efforts to form a new ruling alliance:
parliament without majority
For the first time in Malaysian history, the election produced a divided parliament with no party or coalition winning the parliamentary majority needed to form a government.
The Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition led by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim won 82 seats, meaning it needed to win the support of at least 30 more MPs to secure a 112-seat majority in parliament.
The rival Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition led by former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin won 73 seats, with the UMNO-dominated Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition coming in third with 30 seats.
Other key parties in the negotiations are the states of Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo.
Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) has 23 representatives in the new parliament, while the Sabah-based Gabungan Parti Rakyat (GPR) has six. Warisan, another Sabah-based party has three.
How have the negotiations gone?
Anwar announced early Sunday morning, after the official poll results were announced, that PH had enough support to form a government, but did not provide further details.
The PH camp remained mostly silent on Sunday as Muhyiddin and PN dominated headlines, sharing a photo of the coalition in talks with Sarawakian leader Abang Johari Openg.
Abang Johari later released a statement saying that the Borneo and BN parties had agreed to back Muhyiddin.
But BN denied that any decision has been made, amid rumors that it would join PH.
On Monday morning, party leaders from PH and BN were shown shaking hands and arguing in a Kuala Lumpur hotel.
After the meeting, Anwar said he was “extremely pleased” with the way the discussions had gone and optimistic they could form a government.
BN said any decision would come from its main decision-making body, but even as talks appeared to be in constant flux, PN released a statement saying it had submitted a list of MPs to the king. He said he would support their attempt to form a government, but the statement did not name them.
Meanwhile, GPS’s Abang Johari said the situation was “chaotic” and his group was still discussing which coalition to join. Warisan said that he would back a PH-BN combo.
Late on Tuesday, Ismail Sabri announced on Twitter that the BN would not join any coalition and would remain in opposition. There was no comment from UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. Ismail Sabri is one of the party’s three vice-presidents.
Without the support of the BN, the leading coalition could end up ruling as a minority government.
Alhamdulillah, Dewan Tertinggi Barisan Nasional (BN) telah membuat keputusan untuk tidak menyokong mana-mana gabungan untuk membentuk kerajaan.
BN tidak menyokong Pakatan Harapan (PH) mahupun Perikatan Nasional (PN).
Setakat ini BN bersetuju kekal sebagai pembangkang.
—Ismail Sabri (@IsmailSabri60) November 22, 2022
Why are conversations so difficult?
Politicians involved in the discussions have loyalties and rivalries going back years, complicated by Malaysia’s multicultural society: Most people are ethnic Malay Muslims, but there are substantial Chinese, Indian and indigenous minorities who follow Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism, among other beliefs. . Race and religion can be divisive issues.
Anwar Ibrahim began his political career as a student activist, founding the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement, known by its Malay acronym ABIM, in 1971.
He later joined UMNO, where he rose rapidly through the ranks to become finance minister and deputy to then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, but in September 1998 he was abruptly sacked.
Mahathir accused Anwar of corruption and sodomy, a crime in Malaysia, and thousands took to the streets.
The episode, which saw Anwar jailed, sparked an outcry for reform and the founding of the multiracial Keadilan party, which means justice in Malay, a vital pillar of the PH coalition. PH also includes the multiracial but largely Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP), which is unpopular with conservative Malays, and the reformist Islamist Amanah party.
He also has the support of MUDA, a youth party that has a seat in the new parliament.
The rise of the reform movement throughout the 2000s and beyond has prompted a substantial realignment in Malaysian politics.
BN, a race-based coalition that also includes parties representing Chinese and Indian Malaysians, once dominated the post-independence political landscape but lost power for the first time in 2018, to PH, amid of the multi-billion dollar scandal over 1MDB. His performance over the weekend was the worst in his history.
The main beneficiary of the coalition’s woes has been the PN, a conservative Malaysian grouping.
The coalition includes Bersatu, founded by UMNO members angry at 1MDB, and enlarged by former Keadilan members whose defections in February 2020 led to the collapse of the PH government.
Also part of the PN is the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS), which has long controlled the northeastern state of Kelantan but has been expanding its influence in recent years. The party, which has said it wants to introduce Islamic law, posted its best performance in the recently concluded elections, winning 44 seats and becoming the largest party in parliament.
Borneo states, where Islam is not the majority religion, typically keep events on the peninsula (a two-hour flight across the South China Sea) at arm’s length. However, they have been pushing for greater recognition of their role in the formation of Malaysia and a larger share of federal government revenue.
The leadership situation at BN has also complicated the talks. The alliance’s president, Zahid, faced calls to resign over the coalition’s dismal electoral performance, amid suspicions that he pressured Ismail Sabri to call the election. He is also on trial on corruption charges related to a charitable foundation.
The Malaysia-based Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) set up a team to monitor hate speech on social media during the campaign and their data showed that narratives based on race dominated political discourse.
In a mid-campaign analysis, he identified PAS and its leader Abdul Hadi Awang as one of the worst offenders.
“They have resorted to instilling fear in Muslim voters with phrases such as ‘go to hell if you vote for Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional’, inciting violence against ‘kafir harbi’ (enemies of Islam) and calling on Malays to unite and fight against the Chinese (DAP) and the Indians,” CIJ said in a statement.
Muhyiddin also drew criticism after claiming at a PN rally that PH was working with Christians and Jews to “convert” Muslims in Malaysia in a speech that was widely shared on TikTok.
“Such carelessly uttered statements tend to create racial and religious tension and conflict,” said General Secretary of the Malaysian Council of Churches (CCM), the Rev. Jonathan Jesudas, in a statement.
Race and religion have remained dominant themes in some corners of social media since the election with videos referencing the May 1969 race riots in Kuala Lumpur circulating on TikTok.
On Monday night, police warned people about posting “provocative” content.
“Severe action will be taken against users who try to incite a situation that may threaten public order and safety,” Police Inspector General Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said in a statement.
The 1969 violence led to the deaths of about 200 people, most of them ethnic Chinese, and followed a better-than-expected performance in that year’s elections by opposition parties supported by the Chinese community.
The material was condemned by Anwar, while Abdul Hadi warned people against provocations that could undermine harmony.