The Malaysian election adds a new upset: the hung parliament

A prime minister has been accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars. The national patriarch came out of retirement to overthrow him in historic elections. Fighting took place within the new government, forcing the patriarch to resign. Two new prime ministers in less than two years.

The current coalition government has promised that the political turmoil in Malaysia will end with elections to be held on Saturday. Sensing an opportunity to consolidate its hold on power, the government moved national elections forward by a year and urged voters to usher in a new era of stability by giving it a new mandate to govern.

But the gamble backfired. The current coalition ended up winning far fewer seats than two rival groups. Now Malaysia is grappling with the first hung parliament in its history and political uncertainty that has multiplied.

“The whole thing is a complete mess,” said James Chen, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania and an expert on Malaysian politics.

Pakatan Harapan, a reform-oriented multi-ethnic opposition coalition, was leading with 82 seats. In a surprise to political analysts, Perikatan Nasional, a far-right nationalist coalition, won 73 seats. (A pair of East Malaysia coalitions secured 28 of the remaining 35 seats).

The coalition needs 112 seats – a simple majority – to form a government. None of them own it alone. Pakatan Harapan leader Anwar Ibrahim said his group had enough support from other coalitions to get there, but he did not say who he was collaborating with. Muhyiddin Yassin, the former chief minister in charge of Perikatan Nasional, said his group is ready to welcome any party willing to embrace its “principles”.

The coalition leaders must now convince the king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, that they have the best way forward. Malaysia is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy, and the next prime minister must be formally sworn in by the king.

Experts said the government could be formed by the end of Sunday. In a statement, the palace told party leaders they had until Monday afternoon to clarify how they would like to line up and whom they would prefer. as prime minister.

In this election, “the king’s role is crucial,” said Ira Azhari, an analyst at the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, a Malaysian think-tank. Representatives from all of these coalitions would go to him and say, “We have the numbers,” and he’d have to say, “Okay, prove it.” ‘

If Pakatan Harapan, (whose name means “Alliance of Hope”) is able to form the next government, it will be a comeback for Mr Anwar, a former deputy prime minister who served two prison terms he says was the result of politically motivated trials.

But it was Perikatan Nasional’s strong showing that political analysts found most impressive. The coalition is more conservative than the Barisan National Front (National Front) and includes an Islamist political party that won more than 40 seats on Saturday. Experts said the emergence of the party as a major power broker indicates that the electorate has become more polarized and that many voters, including some young first-time voters, have shifted to the right.

The Islamic party known as PAS has in the past advocated an Islamic theocracy in Malaysia. It started small but in recent years has become a national force by forging alliances with other parties and advancing pro-Muslim Malay politics.

Amid the uncertainty, one thing was clear: Voters once again rebuked UMNO, the party that leads Barisan Nasional’s current coalition. Before Saturday, it was UMNO’s other loss in 2018.

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) led Malaysia from its independence from Britain in 1957 until 2018, when voters drove it from power after an international corruption scandal. The party’s former leader, Najib Razak, who was prime minister for nearly a decade, is now serving a 12-year prison sentence for offenses linked to the looting of $4.5 billion from a government fund.

In the four years since Mr Najib voted to leave office in 2018, there has been a rapid turnover in the Prime Minister’s Office. Mahathir Mohamad, a non-agenarian who previously served as prime minister for more than two decades, replaced Najib. After the collapse of his government, the king appointed Mr. Muhyiddin as prime minister without elections, but he left after his botched handling of the coronavirus pandemic. That paved the way for the current prime minister, Ismail Sabri Yacoub, an ally of Mr. Najib and a member of UMNO.

Saturday’s contest marked the first time Malaysians between the ages of 18 and 20 could vote, after the government lowered the minimum voting age in 2019. The change came in conjunction with a measure that created automatic voter registration. Together, these steps added more than 5 million new voters to the rolls, making about 21 million Malaysians eligible to cast ballots overall.

The Election Commission said so As of 4 p.m. on SaturdayThe number of voters reached more than 14 million.

In interviews, young voters said that the economy and government corruption were among their main concerns. Most said they would vote for candidates who were part of the Pakatan Harapan, which they described as the coalition pushing for change and racial equality.

“I understand why some people are really apathetic,” said Seth Naidoo, the 22-year-old recruiter who cast his vote for Pakatan Harapan. “But then it falls to us, the new generation, the people who are first-time voters, to do something about it.”

One of the changes made by voters included Mr Mahathir, 97, who led UMNO for decades before switching to the opposition to defeat Mr Najib. Notorious for an authoritarian streak as he transformed Malaysia from an agrarian nation into a modern economy, Mr. Mahathir has been running again for his parliamentary seat and building a small coalition.

But for the first time he lost his re-election term.

“We have seen the forced retirement of Mahathir,” Professor Chen said of Saturday’s findings. “People just want him and his political brand to disappear.”

Mr. Mahathir’s administration has successfully pressed charges against Najib, but military observers remain embroiled in allegations of graft. The party’s current chairman, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, was recently acquitted of some – but not all – of his corruption charges. Some experts speculated that a victory for the party would have allowed Mr. Najib and Mr. Al-Zahed to put their legal troubles behind them.

For some voters, the scandals were too much to ignore.

Shereen Ui Sue Ying, 32, a product manager who voted abroad in Berlin earlier this month, said she wasn’t infatuated with either party or prime ministerial candidate. However, she said she voted for Pakatan Harapan, “because I think there is a lot of corruption on the other side.”

“Our country could do so much better,” she said, “if we had a clean government.”

Liani MK contributed reporting from Penang, Malaysia.

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