Another twist in Malaysian political power struggle

Opposition leader Anwer Ibrahim claimed to secure majority in the parliament

The power struggle in Malaysia took another turn when Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Wednesday announced he has secured a “convincing majority” in the parliament to form a new government. 

If Anwar is succeeded forming the government and clinch the leadership of the multi-ethnic south-east Asian nation it would be the culmination of a 22-year-long struggle, during which he spent almost 10 years in jail.

Anwar's latest bid for power comes less than seven months after Muhyiddin emerged as leader following uncertainties triggered by the resignation of the previous prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad. Anwar claimed to have the support from close to two thirds of the legislature's 222 lawmakers, without giving actual numbers or disclosing who had pledged support, though he did stress that the majority of lawmakers backing him were Malay Muslims.

The power struggle between different factions of ruling classes continues since the last general elections in which opposition forces defeated the ruling United Malayan National organisation (UMNO) for the first time since independence.  Former PM Mahathir Muhammad was elected Prime Minister as the candidate of united opposition.

Mahathir reached an agreement with Anwer Ibrahim to transfer power to him after two years but it never happened. Mahathir instead of handing power over to Anwer preferred to side with his former cabinet colleague who formed government with the support of UMNO.

Now Anwer Ibrahim claimed to secure the majority to form the government. “I have a strong, formidable, [and] convincing majority. Not a small majority,” Anwar said at a news conference. He said the development means the end of the government of current premier Muhyiddin Yassin, who grabbed power in a similar manner seven months ago.

“With a clear and indisputable support and majority behind me, the government led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has fallen,” the 73-year-old said. “This is not a backdoor government; this is a government that has the mandate and support. Of course, it is a Malay-majority government, but it will be inclusive so that every community is represented.” 

Anwar told reporters he spoke to the king of Malaysia, who holds the power to dissolve the parliament and approve a new government on Monday night and was due to meet him on Tuesday but the meeting had to be rescheduled.

Mahathir resigned as prime minister in February amid political turmoil within his former Malaysian United Indigenous Party and the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.

Muhyiddin, Mahathir’s party and cabinet colleague, broke away from the PH coalition and aligned with opposition parties, including the United Malays National Organization, to get majority support. After the king’s approval, Muhyiddin took over as prime minister in early March.

However, it remains uncertain if he would be able to form a government as he is yet to receive the nod from Malaysia's king, who could instead choose to call for elections on Muhyiddin’s advice to end months of political volatility. Muhyiddin has a razor-thin majority in Parliament and has already hinted at polls to win a stronger mandate.

And there is a risk that political upheavals could delay delivery of government support measures for an export-focused economy that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Anwar, 73, has had a tumultuous political career. At first a rising star of Malaysian politics and UMNO, he was jailed for sodomy and corruption after being fired as deputy prime minister by Mahathir in 1998. He was again jailed on sodomy charges in 2015, when Najib Razak was prime minister. Mahathir first picked him as his likely replacement and future leader of his party.  Mahathir soon fell out with him and turned against him.

Anwar and his supporters described all the charges brought against him as a plot to destroy his political career. He was granted a royal pardon in 2018, as part of the deal with Mahathir for him to succeed him as leader, after the two had forged an alliance to defeat Najib in the 2018 election.

                                                            Khalid Bhatti

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