What do we know about talks to form a new Malaysian government? | Elections NewsNovember 22, 2022
Malaysia’s main political coalitions have spent the past two days in talks to secure enough support from legislators to form a new government after the weekend’s inconclusive elections.
King Al-Sultan Abdullah gave them a deadline of 2pm (06:00 GMT) on Tuesday to submit sworn affidavits of support. State news agency Bernama said he would make a decision soon.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob called the election early amid pressure from his own party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), saying it would help to restore stability after three prime ministers in almost as many years.
Here is what you need to know about the efforts to form a new ruling alliance:
For the first time in Malaysia’s history, the election produced a hung parliament with no single party or coalition winning the parliamentary majority necessary to form a government.
The Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition led by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim won 82 seats, meaning it needed to get 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 Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which is dominated by UMNO, in third with 30 seats.
Other key parties in the negotiations are from the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak.
Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) has 23 representatives in the new parliament, while Gabungan Parti Rakyat (GPR), which is based in Sabah, has six. Warisan, another Sabah-based party has three.
How have the negotiations been going?
Anwar announced in the early hours of Sunday morning after the official results of the poll were announced that PH had enough backing to form a government, but he 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 discussions with Sarawakian leader Abang Johari Openg.
Abang Johari later put out a statement saying that the Borneo parties and BN had agreed to back Muhyiddin.
But BN denied any decision had been made, amid rumours that it would join up with PH.
On Monday morning, party leaders from PH and BN were shown shaking hands and holding discussions at a Kuala Lumpur hotel.
After the meeting, Anwar said he was “extremely pleased” with how the discussions had gone and optimistic they would be able to form a government.
BN said any decision would come from its top decision-making body, but even as the talks appeared to be in flux PN released a statement saying it had submitted a list of MPs to the king. He said he would support its bid to form the government but the statement did not name them.
GPS’s Abang Johari, meanwhile, said the situation was “chaotic” and his group was actually still in discussion about which coalition to join. Warisan said it would back a PH-BN combo.
At the eleventh hour on Tuesday, Ismail Sabri announced on Twitter that BN would not join any coalition and remain in opposition. There was no comment from UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. Ismail Sabri is one of three vice presidents in the party.
Without BN support, the leading coalition might 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 the talks so difficult?
The politicians involved in the discussions have allegiances and rivalries going back years, complicated by Malaysia’s multicultural society – the majority of people being ethnic Malay Muslims, but with substantial minorities of Chinese, Indian and Indigenous people who follow Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism among other beliefs. Race and religion can be divisive issues.
Anwar Ibrahim started his political career as a student activist, founding the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia, 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 suddenly sacked.
Mahathir accused Anwar of corruption and sodomy, a crime in Malaysia, and thousands took to the streets.
The episode, which saw Anwar jailed, led to a clamour 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 mostly Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP), which is unpopular with conservative Malays, and the reformist Islamist party Amanah.
It is also supported by MUDA, a youth-based party which has one seat in the new parliament.
The rise of the reform movement through the 2000s and beyond has driven a substantial realignment in Malaysian politics.
BN, a race-based coalition that also includes parties representing Malaysians of Chinese and Indian origin, once dominated the post-independence political landscape but lost power for the first time in 2018 – to PH – amid the multibillion-dollar scandal over 1MDB. Its performance over the weekend was its worst ever.
The main beneficiary of the coalition’s woes has been PN, a conservative Malay grouping.
The coalition includes Bersatu, founded by UMNO members angry about 1MDB, and expanded by former Keadilan members whose defections in February 2020 led to the collapse of the PH government.
Also part of PN is the Pan-Malaysian 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, chalked up its best-ever performance in the recently concluded election winning 44 seats and becoming the biggest party in parliament.
The Borneo states, where Islam is not the majority religion, usually 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 in BN has also complicated the talks. The alliance’s chairman Zahid faced calls to resign over the coalition’s woeful election performance, amid suspicions he pressured Ismail Sabri into calling the poll. He is also on trial over corruption charges related to a charitable foundation.
Social media warning
The Malaysia-based Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) set up a team to monitor hate speech on social media during the campaign and its data showed race-based narratives dominated the political discourse.
In an analysis part way through the campaign it identified PAS and its leader Abdul Hadi Awang as among the worst offenders.
“They have resorted to fear-triggering Muslim voters with phrases like ‘going to hell if you vote Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional’, and inciting violence against ‘kafir harbi’ (enemies of Islam), and for calling Malays to unite and fight against the Chinese (DAP) and Indians,” CIJ said in a statement.
Muhyiddin also attracted 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 shared widely on TikTok.
“Such statements, carelessly uttered, have a tendency to create racial and religious tension and strife,” The Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) General Secretary Reverend Jonathan Jesudas said in a statement.
Race and religion have remained dominant themes on 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.
“Stern actions … will be taken against users that attempt to incite a situation that can threaten public safety and order,” Inspector-General of Police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said in a statement.
The violence in 1969 led to the deaths of about 200 people, most of them ethnic Chinese, and followed a better-than-expected performance in that year’s election 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.