Malaysia faces a hung parliament for the first time in its political history, after a contentious and hotly contested general election saw major parties fail to win enough votes to form a new government.
The result has thrown the Southeast Asian country into further political turmoil, as rival leaders jostle to expand the rankings in renewed efforts to form a clear majority. The winner will become Malaysia’s fourth prime minister in as many years as the country grapples with rising inflation and a cost of living crisis.
With all but one of the parliamentary seats declared on Sunday morning, veteran opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s multi-ethnic Pakatan Harapan coalition was in the lead, securing 82 seats out of a possible 220, according to results from the country’s electoral commission.
Close behind is Malaysia-based former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional, or National Alliance, with 73 seats. Muhyiddin’s group includes an Islamist party that has openly supported Sharia or Islamic law.
But in the biggest upheaval of the night, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition of centre-right political parties including the United Malaysian National Organization (UMNO) suffered a resounding defeat. – winning only 30 seats.
Officials from UMNO, which ruled Malaysia for more than six decades after its independence from Britain, previously told CNN the party had “a lot of work” to do and did not want to back down.
In the past, indomitable characters were also expelled. The country’s former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, 97, suffered defeat for the first time in 53 years, losing his seat in the Langkawi island constituency.
The lack of a clear winner in Saturday’s election now presents the possibility that Malaysia’s king could get involved, with the constitution granting the monarch the power to determine who has a majority in parliament.
The two leading candidates declared victory on Sunday, despite results showing neither has enough votes to form a government.
In a late-night speech to his supporters on Saturday, Anwar claimed he had enough support from MPs to form a government and would detail his support in a letter to the king. Muhyiddin also told his supporters that he was in talks with Sabah and Sarawak political party leaders to form a coalition as well.
Since 2015, Malaysian politics has been overshadowed by the 1MDB corruption scandal, which has seen billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money diverted from the country. He brought down former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption.
Ahead of the elections, many voters expressed a strong desire to end years of political instability. And on Saturday, voters headed to the polls in large numbers, with state media estimating turnout at 73.89% – despite heavy rains and flooding that have hampered campaigning in half the country in recent weeks. .
If Anwar is able to secure a coalition with enough votes to form a government, it would represent a remarkable comeback for the veteran politician, who was jailed for sodomy and released in 2018.
Anwar made a name for himself as a student activist in various Muslim youth groups in Kuala Lumpur in the late 1960s, when the country was reeling from the protracted communist insurgency of the Malayan Emergency.
Arrested in 1974 during student protests against rural poverty, Anwar was sentenced to 20 months in prison. Despite his reputation as an instigator, he later confounded liberal supporters in 1982 by joining the conservative United Malays National Organization (UMNO) led by Mahathir.
The freed politician was heir apparent to then Prime Minister Mahathir until 1998 when he was sacked and charged with bribery and sodomy. He was found guilty the following year, a decision that led to massive street protests.
The sodomy conviction was overturned, but the bribery verdict was never lifted, barring him from running for political office until a decade later.
In 2008, after his ban on political participation was lifted, he was hit with new sodomy charges.
Following an appeal for the acquittal of those charges, he was re-convicted and imprisoned in 2015. Human rights groups were highly critical when the conviction was upheld, calling it a politically motivated – a claim the government has denied.
Anwar was released three years later, immediately joining former political opponent Mahathir in ousting the ruling Barisan party for the first time in Malaysian history. The success was short-lived, however, with the coalition collapsing after less than two years in power.