Four days after an inconclusive election that gave opposition Pakatan Harapan a majority but not a majority of seats, efforts to form a new government continue.
Malaysia’s king is assuming a central role as rival coalitions try to form a new government after elections on Saturday ended in a parliament with no absolute majority.
The opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), led by Anwar Ibrahim, won 82 seats, falling 30 seats short of a 112-seat majority in parliament.
Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition won 73 seats.
Both Anwar and Muhyiddin are trying to reach a majority, and King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah has met with both.
“Let me make a decision soon,” he told reporters outside the national palace on Tuesday, calling on Malaysians to accept any decision on government formation.
Here’s what you need to know about the Malaysian king and monarchy.
Who is King Sultan Abdullah?
Malaysia’s head of state is known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the position is held on a unique rotating basis among the country’s royal houses.
Each king usually holds office for five years, but Sultan Abdullah assumed the throne after his predecessor, Sultan Muhammad V, suddenly announced that he was stepping down.
Sultan Abdullah hails from the central state of Pahang. He was proclaimed the sixth sultan of Pahang, replacing his 88-year-old father, just a week before he was named Agong.
The 59-year-old went to school in the UK and attended the military academy in Sandhurst. He is married with nine children and was a keen polo and soccer player when he was younger, even representing his state. He is a former president of the Malaysian Football Association and also served on FIFA’s executive committee, according to his official biography.
How has the king been involved since the election?
The Electoral Commission announced the results of the election in the early hours of Sunday morning.
It was the first time that the poll had resulted in a hung parliament.
Anwar announced shortly after that he has enough support to have a majority in the chamber; a few hours later, Muhyiddin claimed the same.
Amid the uncertainty, the king issued a statement setting Monday as the deadline for the coalitions to form new alliances and present them to the palace. Amid conflicting statements of support and a whirlwind of meetings between the two main coalitions and the partners needed to form a government, Sultan Abdullah extended the deadline by 24 hours.
Anwar and Muhyiddin met him separately at the palace shortly after the deadline expired on Tuesday, with neither apparently having secured the necessary 112 seats.
The king proposed a “unity” government between the multi-ethnic PH and the conservative Malay Muslim NP. Muhyiddin said that he had rejected that suggestion. Meanwhile, Anwar told reporters that he wanted to form a strong government “that is more inclusive in terms of race, religion or region.”
The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which dominated Malaysian politics until 2018, has become the kingmaker since the election, despite being roundly rejected by many voters. Its 30 seats would give PH the majority it needs to form a government and go some way towards helping PN enter Putrajaya, the administrative capital.
The king had asked to see each of the 30 BN representatives on Wednesday morning.
Has the king chosen a prime minister before?
Malaysia is a parliamentary democracy under which the party or coalition that wins the most seats in general elections forms the government. The leader of that party or coalition usually becomes prime minister.
The role of the country’s constitutional monarch is largely advisory, but under the constitution, the king has the power to appoint a prime minister who he believes has the confidence of lawmakers.
That power has been used twice since February 2020, when a power struggle led to the collapse of the PH government elected in 2018 and the resignation of then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
After inviting members of parliament to meet him at the palace after a week of uncertainty, Sultan Abdullah announced Muhyiddin as leader.
Amid continued instability, Muhyiddin resigned in August 2021, and the king chose Ismail Sabri Yaakob, deputy chairman of BN’s scandal-tainted United Malays National Organization (UMNO), as prime minister. On that occasion, he asked members of parliament to submit statutory statements on the person they believed he had the most support in the chamber.