Political manoeuvring in Malaysia: What next?

Mr Anwar Ibrahim says he now has enough support in Parliament to be able to form a government and replace Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin.
Mr Anwar Ibrahim says he now has enough support in Parliament to be able to form a government and replace Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - A year of Malaysian political manoeuvring has taken another turn with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim saying he now has enough support in Parliament to be able to form a government and replace Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

DOES THIS MEAN ANWAR BECOMES PRIME MINISTER?

No. It's far from certain that Datuk Seri Anwar will take the position he has tried to get for more than two decades.

Mr Anwar's first step needs to be convincing the King he has the support of the majority of lawmakers. To do that, he would need to see the King, who is currently hospitalised, though not for a serious problem.

The King could make him premier if he is convinced Mr Anwar can command a majority, or he could dissolve Parliament and trigger elections on the prime minister's advice.

So far, no major political party has come out in support of him.

Major parties in Tan Sri Muhyiddin's coalition dismissed his claim as "cheap publicity" and said they firmly supported the premier.

Mr Anwar's own party has only 38 lawmakers - which means he would need to win over other parties or factions within them to get majority support from the 222-seat Parliament.

HOW DID IT GET TO THIS POINT?

Malaysian politics tumbled into turmoil in February when Mr Anwar's perennial rival, nonagenarian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad resigned in a growing power struggle within their alliance that won a surprise victory in a 2018 election.

Both ended up sidelined, while Mr Muhyiddin emerged as prime minister of a government in which the biggest party is the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) - which ruled Malaysia for decades until 2018 and to which Mr Anwar, Tun Dr Mahathir and Mr Muhyiddin all once belonged.

 
 

But Mr Muhyiddin's position has remained precarious with a single-digit majority in parliament, while Umno withdrew some of its backing after former leader and former prime minister Najib Razak was found guilty of corruption in the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal.

The opposition, including Mr Anwar and Dr Mahathir, had vowed to oust him, saying he won power by shifting alliances instead of earning it at the ballot box.

HOW DO THE POLITICAL FORCES STACK UP?

Malaysian politics revolves around coalitions, but the strongest single party is likely to be Umno, which stands for the interests of majority Malays in the multi-ethnic country.

Although it was voted out amid anger over the 1MDB scandal in 2018, it has improved its showing at more recent by-elections. Many Malays were unhappy with what they saw as too much focus on non-Malay interests, and particularly those of ethnic Chinese, under the Mahathir-Anwar coalition. Mr Anwar remains allied to a largely Chinese party.

Kingmakers in any coalition, whether through elections or not, could well be the parties from Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo - which have long asked for more autonomy and a bigger share of oil and gas revenues from state oil giant Petronas.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE ECONOMY?

Malaysia's economy plunged into its first contraction since the 2009 global financial crisis as a result of the impact of the coronavirus on trade and tourism.

While all governments are likely to promise large stimulus packages, political turmoil could hold up prospects for delivering on them and being able to find the financing for them.

 
 

If whoever forms a government is beholden to the Borneo parties, that could also mean that central government revenues take a heavier knock as they could end up getting smaller revenue from Petronas.

Mr Muhyiddin, whose coalition relies on the ruling coalition from Sarawak for support, had already agreed to pay a sales tax they demanded and had shown to be willing to give them a bigger share of revenues.