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Coalition talks follow the inconclusive result of Malaysian elections

Malaysia’s former PM Muhyiddin Yassin secured backing from two political blocs on Sunday as he sought to form a new government after a general election produced a hung parliament, but he had yet to win the required majority. Muhyiddin became prime minister in 2020, but his administration collapsed last year, paving the way for Barisan Nasional’s return to power with Ismail Sabri Yaakob at the helm.

Muhyiddin, of the Perikatan Nasional coalition, said he had won support from two regional blocs based on the island of Borneo. That would boost his alliance’s seat tally from 73 (a gain of 41 seats) to 101, bringing him closer to the 112 required for the majority.

One of the Borneo regional blocs is Gabungan Parti Sarawak, which said it was willing to work with Muhyiddin and the incumbent multi-ethnic Barisan alliance to form a government. The election saw Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s Barisan Nasional alliance suffer its worst electoral defeat ever, winning just 30 (a loss of 28 seats).

Forming a government may require the involvement of Malaysia’s king, whose largely ceremonial role includes the power to appoint a lawmaker he believes will command a majority as the PM. On Sunday, the royal palace instructed the parties to each present the name of a lawmaker it thinks has the majority by 2 pm (0600 GMT) on Monday.

“I am confident I will obtain enough support from lawmakers that will enable me to be appointed by the King as Prime Minister,” said Muhyiddin Yassin, without saying which other parties might back him.

Longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, whose Pakatan Harapan coalition won the most seats in Saturday’s election with 82 (still a loss of 18 sears), is also racing to win support from other groups.

The inconclusive result of the election prolongs political uncertainty in the Southeast Asian nation, which has seen three prime ministers in as many years, at a time of slowing economic growth and rising inflation. The instability reflects a transformation in a country that has been one of the most stable for decades in a region that has had its share of military coups, violent political upheavals, and insurgencies.

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A record number of Malaysians voted on Saturday, and they rejected Ismail’s multi-ethnic Barisan coalition, led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) which has long been the country’s dominant political force.

Race and religion are divisive issues in Malaysia, where the mostly Muslim Malays are the majority of the population, with sizable ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

A key winner in the election was the Islamist Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) party in Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional grouping, securing the largest number of seats of any single party, taking 44 seats out of 73 Perikatan won as a whole.

Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s longest-serving PM, suffered his first election defeat in 53 years, losing his seat to the Perikatan alliance. The 97-year-old is a true veteran having held office from July 1981 to October 2003 and later from May 2018 to March 2020 for a cumulative total of 24 years.

If Anwar Ibrahim of Pakatan Harapan should become PM, it would be a remarkable transformation for a politician who, in the space of 25 years, has gone from Mahathir’s heir apparent to a prisoner convicted of sodomy and now a leading opposition figure. He denies the sodomy charges, saying they were politically motivated.

“I think what we learned here is that the country is more divided,” said Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, deputy managing director at political risk consultancy BowerGroupAsia.

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