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Malaysia’s new crisis

In a first, the recently concluded general elections in Malaysia – held on Saturday, November 19 – have produced a hung parliament. Malaysian authorities had called early elections to end political instability and infighting in the country and to elect a stable government.

But the results of the elections, which were held for 220 out of the 222 seats, clearly indicate that no coalition has succeeded to secure the 112 seats required to form the government with a simple majority.

According to the official election results, the Anwar Ibrahim-led coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH), has secured 82 seats. The coalition had won 100 seats in the 2018 elections. This means that it has lost 18 seats.

The Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition led by former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin came second with 73 seats. This coalition has gained 42 seats – it had won just 32 seats in 2018 – and has now emerged as the real winner of this election.

The Islamic party ‘PAS’ has made big gains as part of the PN coalition and won 49 out of the 73 seats won by the coalition. It has also won seats in northern and central Malaysia, outside of its traditional strongholds and become the single largest party in parliament with 49 seats. The PAS has strongly campaigned to impose Shariah laws in Malaysia. Its rise is a warning shot for traditional parties which continue to lose their support base.

The biggest loser of the election was the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition led by prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob. The major party of this coalition is the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) which has dominated the electoral landscape for nearly 60 years. The coalition could manage to win only 30 seats. In 2018, it had won 58 seats. It has suffered more losses in 2022 and lost 28 seats. This is the worst-ever defeat for the former ruling party which ruled Malaysia till 2018 without any interruption since the country’s independence in 1957. The UMNO-dominated BN coalition lost first election in 2018 when the PH coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim and Mahathir Muhammad won the elections.

The Sarawak-based regional coalition, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), has won 22 seats while the Sabah-based Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) has won six seats. Both parties will play the role of kingmakers in the formation of the new government.

According to the Malaysian Election Commission, the turnout was 73.89 per cent. More than 15.48 million voters out of the 21.17 million eligible voters cast their ballots. The turnout in this election was slightly lower than the 2018 general election – 82per cent. Six million new voters including 1.4 million young voters between the ages of 18 and 20 years were added. The voting age was lowered to 18 years from the previous 21.

The low turnout is a clear indication that many voters have lost trust in their politicians. There was a lot of hope in 2018 among young voters that the PH coalition’s victory and the BN coalition’s defeat would bring positive changes in the country. Young people wanted more political and democratic rights and an end to the authoritarian rule. But these hopes were not fulfilled during the Mahathir-led government which failed to deliver on most of the promises and pledges made during the 2018 election campaigns.

The mismanagement of the economy and the corruption scandals have tarnished the image of many politicians. According to an opinion poll conducted in October by the Merdeka Centre, the economy was voters’ top concern in Malaysia, along with inflation and the rising cost of living. More than 50 per cent of the people interviewed also said that they were dissatisfied with the current government. The coalition government led by Ismail Sabri Yaakob was deeply unpopular among young people.

There were high hopes before the elections that a single coalition would be able to win the 112 seats needed to form a stable and strong government; smaller parties have become kingmakers. Overall 22 parties have made to the Malaysian parliament. Most of these parties are part of the four major coalitions that contested the recently concluded15th general elections.

Now different political parties will engage in an intense process of behind-the-scenes negotiations to form a coalition. It might take some time before a stable coalition government is formed. Malaysia has seen three prime ministers in the last three years. Political infighting has dominated the political scene in this country of more than 31 million people over the last few years. Power struggles and infighting between political leaders have resulted in more political instability.

Previously, the bitter power struggle between former prime minister Mahathir Muhammad and former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim caused the collapse of the Mahathir government in the country. Both leaders signed a power-sharing formula before the elections.

According to this power sharing, Mahathir was elected the prime minister of Malaysia for half a term and had to resign to be replaced by Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister for the remaining term. But Mahathir refused to resign and collaborated with his former colleagues in the UMNO to keep Anwar Ibrahim away from power.

Many politicians who left the PH coalition including Mahathir have suffered humiliating defeats in their constituencies in the recent elections. Mahathir has ended up at the fifth spot in his constituency. This is the first time in 53 years that he has lost the elections. Some other prominent politicians have also suffered embarrassing defeats.

Both Anwar Ibrahim and Muhyiddin Yasin have claimed to have enough support to form the government without mentioning the names of specific parties. Anwar Ibrahim has written a letter to the Malaysian king to inform him about the possible coalition he is stitching together.

It is not clear whether Anwar Ibrahim will be able to form a coalition government or not. In case he succeeds to form a government, it will be a remarkable comeback.

Khalid Bhatti, "Malaysia’s new crisis," The News. 2022-11-22.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political parties , Political scene , Politicians , Parliament , Elections , Anwar Ibrahim , Ismail Sabri Yaakob , Malaysia , UMNO , GPS , PH