Malaysia is heading for its first-ever hung Parliament as coalitions led by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and former premier Muhyiddin Yassin are poised to fail to win a majority, fueling political uncertainty in an economy on a fragile rebound.
Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan coalition was in the lead with 75 seats and there were 20 contests left to be called, according to local media Malaysiakini. That means no alliance would be able to get the 111 seats required from Saturday’s vote to immediately win a majority.
The result will extend a political crisis that has seen the government change three times in four years and hampered efforts to bring down the cost of living and rein in a growing deficit in the aftermath of spending to shield the economy from the pandemic.
Malaysia’s king will now play a key role in breaking the impasse. The winner with the most votes may be given the first opportunity to negotiate a minority government, or candidates for prime minister may be allowed to forge pacts between their coalitions, as was the case in the formation of the last two governments.
If that fails, the king may determine which leader he believes commands majority in Parliament, though this would not be tested publicly until Parliament reconvenes, said New Sin Yew, a constitutional lawyer at AmerBON Advocates.
This election wasn’t due until September 2023, but the United Malays National Organisation, the linchpin of BN, wanted it earlier to capitalize on a slew of local poll victories as well as what they saw as an opposition in disarray.
BN waged a very muted campaign due to infighting within UMNO over the selection of candidates while other pro-Malay coalitions attacked its track record in governance, reminding voters of leaders facing corruption cases.
While it’s set to win the most seats as predicted by pollsters, Anwar’s PH will have a tougher time forging alliances with the two pro-Malay blocs. That’s partly because PH’s coalition government under Mahathir Mohamad collapsed in 2020 as lawmakers working with Muhyddin broke away and joined forces with UMNO.
An Islamist party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, has also said it won’t form a government with Anwar. PH’s best bet lies with a regional party in Sarawak that has traditionally thrown its support behind the coalition with the most seats nationwide.
BN said it “accepts and respects the people’s decision” after Malaysia’s incumbent coalition took a beating in the hotly contested election.
“BN is prepared to set aside past differences to contribute toward the realization of a stable government,” BN Chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said in a statement. The coalition will focus on restoring the party’s strength, and is “prepared be a bridge between peninsular Malaysia and Borneo island,” he said.
For Ibrahim Suffian, co-founder of the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research, a key takeaway from the election has been the weak showing by BN. The trend so far points to “a clear rejection of BN and its brand of politics,” he said.
(With assistance from Anuradha Raghu, Shamim Adam and Ravil Shirodkar.)