By Muzliza Mustafa, Iman Muttaqin Yusof, Fitri Hazim and Nisha David
Malaysia’s electoral crisis dragged on Tuesday as the king remained undecided on the next prime minister, three days after voting produced a hung parliament.
Saturday’s national election proved inconclusive with the Pakatan Harapan coalition winning 82 seats and the Perikatan Nasional bloc capturing 79, but neither logging the majority required to form a government.
The losing incumbent coalition Barisan Nasional, a bloc which could have helped break the deadlock, decided Tuesday it wouldn’t back either Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan or Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan, leaving them short of the required 111 seats.
After the king met Pakatan and Perikatan leaders Tuesday afternoon, the palace issued a statement saying the monarch would meet individually with the 30 newly elected Barisan MPs on Wednesday to help him with his decision.
“This process is intended so that His Majesty the King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah can make a decision to appoint an MP who in His Majesty’s opinion is possible to get the confidence of the majority of MPs to be the prime minister,” the statement said.
“His Majesty advised all the people to be patient and calm until the process of forming a new government and the appointment of the future 10th Prime Minister of Malaysia is completed.”
Both Muhyiddin and Anwar said the king had mentioned the idea of a “unity government” that would include both Pakatan and Perikatan.
Muhyiddin told reporters he rejected the idea, while Anwar indicated he would follow the king’s advice.
“The King for many years has consistently said that there must be a spirit of unity among the people, [also] when Ismail Sabri and Muhyiddin were appointed as PM. But they did not do that. If it were me, I would respect and obey,” Anwar told reporters.
Muhyiddin said he would never work with Anwar.
“From the very beginning we have said we will not work with PH,” he told a news conference, referring to Pakatan.
“That is the stance of our party from the beginning until now. For whatever purpose, unity or not, we disagree.”
Muhyiddin’s Perikatan is a Malay nationalist coalition, which has been accused of divisive campaigning, although he has denied it. Anwar’s Pakatan is a multiracial coalition.
According to Anwar, the king cited the need for a strong government.
Meanwhile, the police on Tuesday warned the public against publishing any social media content that affects peace and harmony in the country.
The warning came after several posts were seen on social media promoting racial hatred and implying that race riots that occurred in 1969 may happen again if DAP were part of the government.
Some ethnic Malays are distrustful of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a largely ethnic Chinese party, which they see as putting the interests of ethnic Chinese Malays front and center, to the detriment of Malaysia’s ethnic Malay majority.
Tensions over race and religion and economic resentment are a persistent theme in Malaysian society, but reached their nadir in May 1969 when communal violence killed nearly 200 people, many of them ethnic Chinese, according to official figures.
‘We do not support any coalition’
Analysts were divided about the prospect of a unity government.
Oh Ei Sun, of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said he is not in favor of a unity government between Pakatan and Perikatan, because he cannot accept a conservative Islamic party in the government.
He was referring to Perikatan’s partner, the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which won the most seats – 49 – of any other party in the election.
Oh said the king should appoint Anwar as leader of a plurality coalition, name him prime minister, and let him face a vote of confidence in parliament later.
“Plurality means those with the most number of seats but not the majority yet,” Oh told BenarNews.
“It could also be a minority government propped up by a confidence and supply agreement from the opposition, like what Pakatan signed with Ismail Sabri,” he added.
The confidence and supply agreement was an accord signed by Pakatan and the incumbent Ismail Sabri Yaakob government, under which the former would support or abstain on votes on key bills in parliament as long as the government consulted them beforehand.
Another analyst, Mazlan Ali, from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, believes a unity government is required as Malaysia and the world head into a recession and amid spiraling inflation in the country.
“But to make it happen, only the king can do that by taking on the role of peacekeeper and encouraging all to form a unity government, which eventually will solve the issue of prime minister appointment,” he told BenarNews.
Earlier in the day, the original Malay nationalist coalition, Barisan Nasional, which had been in talks with Anwar to support his bloc, backed out. There were divisions within Barisan about whom to support – some wanted to support Perikatan, which is ideologically similar.
Ismail Sabri, the vice president of UMNO, the party that leads Barisan, was among those who did not want to support Pakatan. He announced Barisan’s decision on Facebook.
“The Barisan Nasional Supreme Council has decided that we do not support any coalition to form the government. BN does not support Pakatan Harapan nor Perikatan Nasional. So far BN has agreed to remain in opposition,” wrote Ismail Sabri.
Tengku Noor Shamsiah Tengku Abdullah in Kuala Lumpur contributed to the report.