Malaysia faces political gridlock - GulfToday

Malaysia faces political gridlock

Anwar Ibrahim (center) reacts at the end of a press conference in Kuala Lumpur. AFP

Anwar Ibrahim (center) reacts at the end of a press conference in Kuala Lumpur. AFP

The surprise in the results of Malaysia’s 15th general election (GE15) was that there were no winners. Two of the leading alliances, one Pakatan Harapan led by Anwar Ibrahim won 82 seats, and Perikatan Nacional led by Muhyiddin Yasin got 73, with both falling far short of the 112 seats in a 222-member Federal Parliament.

The National Front, led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which had been the ruling party in Malaysia since it became independent in 1957, had hoped to win back power which it had lost for the first time in the 2018 election to Ibrahim. But it has fared miserably, winning just 30 seats.

There is an unofficial split in UMNO, with some wanting to support Ibrahim like Hisham Hussein, a vice president of UMNO, while UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said a negotiation committee has been formed to negotiate with Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapn and Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nacional.

With many parties with handful numbers of their own, the bigger alliances are forced to look for coalition partners.

Unlike UMNO, which was an umbrella party that included the Chinese and Indian factions of multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia and that had provided a stable government for this important south-east Asian nation of 33 million people, the era of Malaysian politics appears to be one of smaller, and perhaps unstable, coalition partners.

But UMNO has been facing too many corruption charges against its leaders and it has alienated many of the Malays.

Many observers of the political situation of Malaysia would note the fact that among the smaller parties, the Islamist political party with orthodox views, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, also known as PAS, a member of Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nacional (PN), has won 49 seats of the 73 won by the alliance, which is double the figure of what it had won in the 2018 election.

The Pas has become known for its hardline stance of imposing traditional Islamic law of Sharia, and that has given rise to uneasiness among the ethnic segments of the Malaysian population, including the Chinese and Indians. But Pas’s secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan assured Pas would not impose its views on others and it is willing to abide by the coalition rules. The party has been ruling the province of Kelantan for about 30 years, and it has been the partner of the coalition led by Muhyiddin Yasin.

Takiyuddin said, “Pas always respects the diversity and plurality of Malaysia, which comprises various races, customs and religions, and recognises the rights and freedoms to practice their own way of life as per the Federal Constitution.” Takiyuddin assured that Pas adheres to the Islamic principle of ‘no compulsion in religion’. He pointed to Pas’s governance in Kelantan province of the last 30 years. He said, “Pas has proven this after showing openness, including guaranteeing the rights of people of various races and religions in the government led by Pas in Kelantan for over 30 years.”

In the Malaysian constitutional system, the king will decide who could be called to be the prime minister and form the government based on the majority in the Federal Parliament. King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmed has given time till Tuesday afternoon to different parties to prove their parliamentary majority. Perikatan Nacional’s Muhyiddin Yasin hopes to gather the numbers on assurances given by other parties.

There is the apprehension that any coalition would be unstable because the crisis that erupted after the 2018 election began with Muhyiddin breaking away from Anwar Ibrahim. It is quite clear that Malaysia has thrown away the political hegemony of UMNO, and it is looking for alternatives.

The smaller coalitions may not be stable but they will be on their feet as it were, fearing that people will judge them by their performance.

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