Malaysians watch and wait as post-election negotiations continue

Malaysians are still waiting to see who will be appointed as the country’s new prime minister.

Negotiations between party representatives are continuing and tomorrow (Thursday) the king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, is due to hold a special meeting with his fellow rulers at the national palace, Istana Negara, so that they can contribute to his deliberations.

The results of voting in Malaysia’s 15th general election (GE15), held last Saturday (November 19), were announced in the early hours of Sunday morning. None of the parties or political groupings won enough seats to secure a simple majority in parliament.

Since the election, Malaysians have watched politicians coming and going from Istana Negara and gathering in hotels to discuss potential political deals to achieve a majority.

The role of the king (the Yang di-Pertuan Agong) is largely advisory, but, under Malaysia’s constitution, he has the power to appoint a prime minister who he considers has the support of a majority of legislators.

Today (Wednesday) the king met separately with representatives from Barisan Nasional (BN) and the Gabungan Parti Sarawak alliance.

Perikatan Nasional (PN) chairman and former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin and the leader of Pakatan Harapan (PH), Anwar Ibrahim, were summoned to the palace for an audience with the king on Tuesday (November 22). Muhyiddin left without speaking to the media.

The king proposed that PH and PN form a “unity” government, but Muhyiddin said he had declined that suggestion.

Several journalists made the error of stating that Anwar (pictured left) had been appointed interim prime minister, a claim that Anwar corrected, saying the king had not yet made a decision and the job of prime minister was still vacant.

Party members from PH (the Alliance of Hope) and BN (The National Front) met for talks at the Seri Pacific Hotel on Monday (November 21).

Ten BN MPs have withdrawn their earlier support for Muhyiddin. A leaked letter from BN chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is standing trial on corruption charges and pushed heavily for an early election to be held, indicated that all thirty BN MPs were now in favour of Anwar being appointed as Malaysia’s tenth prime minister.

While the PH coalition won the most seats (82) in GE15, 112 seats are required for a simple majority in the 222-seat Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives).

Perikatan Nasional (the National Alliance) won 73 seats. The Malaysian Islamic Party PAS, which is a member of the PN coalition, won 49 seats, the largest number won by an individual party.

Barisan Nasional won only 30 seats. This is less than half the number it won in 2018, when the opposition was voted in for first time since independence. There have been growing calls for Ahmad Zahid to resign.

BN treasurer-general and caretaker defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he would not support cooperation with Pakatan Harapan to form the government.

Hishammuddin said he was prepared to be sacked by the party rather than change his stance.

On Tuesday, caretaker prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is vice-president of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which is the leading party in Barisan Nasional, said BN had decided not to form a government with PN or PH and would remain in opposition.

However, there were reports this evening (Wednesday) that PH and BN may have come to an agreement on a governing formula. The New Straits Times reported that its journalists had seen a ten-point agreement proposed by PH to BN.

Former ambassador Dennis Ignatius wrote in a blog post published on November 22 that PH–BN was “a good compromise”.

He wrote: “To be sure, many within both PH and BN will have reservations about working together given the deep-seated animosity and distrust between them. Indeed, it is by no means certain that Zahid Hamidi can deliver all 30 of his seats. The road ahead will not be without challenges but if anyone can bring them all together it is Anwar Ibrahim. He deserves the opportunity to lead where all others have failed.”

Ignatius said a PH partnership with a “much-chastised” UMNO was perhaps the best compromise.

“If UMNO can agree on at least a minimalist agenda – no special treatment for those charged with or convicted of corruption, all those facing trial for corruption or other offences to be excluded from cabinet, the reform agenda – there is no reason not to accept it,” Ignatius wrote.

There have been three prime ministers in Malaysia since 2018.

Muhyiddin (pictured left) was appointed prime minister on March 1, 2020, after the resignation of Mahathir Mohamad on February 24. He resigned on August 16, 2021, after losing majority support in parliament.

On August 20, 2021, Ismail Sabri Yaakob was named as the country’s ninth prime minister.

In GE15, 97-year-old Mahathir, who spearheaded the opposition’s defeat of the BN coalition in 2018, won only 4,566 votes and lost his deposit.

Just before GE15 Muhyiddin caused controversy when he told the public not to vote for PH as the coalition was linked to a group of Jews and Christians and there was a danger of a “Christianisation process” in Malaysia.

UPDATE: Perikatan Nasional’s supreme council has now agreed to consider the proposed establishment of a unity government that involves discussions with like-minded parties “for the well-being of the people and national stability”.

The decision was conveyed in a statement issued on November 24 by PN secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin.


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