KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is facing a hung parliament for the first time in its political history, after a divisive, tightly-contested general election left major parties unable to secure enough votes to form a new government.
The result has thrust the Southeast Asian country into fresh political turmoil, as rival leaders scramble to broaden collations in renewed efforts to form a clear majority. Whoever wins will become Malaysia’s fourth prime minister in as many years, as the country grapples with rising inflation and a cost of living crisis.
With all but one parliamentary seat declared Sunday morning, veteran opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s multi-ethnic Pakatan Harapan coalition was ahead, having secured 82 seats from a possible 220, according to results from the country’s Election Commission.
Close behind is former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Malay-based Perikatan Nasional, or National Alliance, with 73 seats. Muhyiddin’s group includes an Islamist party that has openly backed shariah or Islamic law.
But in the biggest upset of the night, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, made up of center right political parties including the dominant United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), suffered a stunning defeat – winning just 30 seats.
Officials from UMNO, which ruled Malaysia for more than six decades following its independence from Britain, previously told CNN the party had “a lot of work” to do and did not want to go backwards.
Once indomitable figures were also thrust out. The country’s former prime minister, 97-year-old Mahathir Mohamad suffered defeat for the first time in 53 years, losing his seat in the Langkawi island constituency.
The lack of a clear winner in Saturday’s election now presents the possibility Malaysia’s King could become involved, with the constitution granting the monarch power to determine who has the majority in parliament.
Both leading candidates declared victory on Sunday, despite results showing neither has enough votes to form a government.
In a late night speech to supporters Saturday, Anwar claimed he had enough support from members of parliament to form a government and would detail his support in a letter to the King. Muhyiddin also told his supporters he was in discussions with leaders of the Sabah and Sarawak political parties to also form a coalition.
Since 2015, Malaysian politics has been overshadowed by the 1MDB corruption scandal, which saw billions of dollars of taxpayers money embezzled out of the country. It brought down former prime minister, Najib Razak, who is now serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption.
Ahead of the polls, many voters expressed a strong desire to end years of political instability. And on Saturday, voters headed to polls in huge numbers, with state media estimating turnout to be 73.89% – despite heavy rains and flooding which hindered campaigning across half of the country in recent weeks.