In his latest bid to become prime minister, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said Tuesday he had presented the king with documentation that a majority of lawmakers back him, but the palace cast doubt on his claim by saying he did not identify those MPs.
Meanwhile, political uncertainty deepened as UMNO, a key party backing Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, announced late in the day that it was thinking of pulling out of his ruling alliance, which would cause it to collapse.
“UMNO is considering withdrawing from supporting the national alliance and will give new conditions to the PN [Perikatan Nasional] government to continue political cooperation, with a written agreement to be implemented as soon as possible,” Ahmad Maslan, secretary general of the United Malays National Organization said in a statement.
The statement did not say whether UMNO was now considering an alliance with Anwar, the head of the People’s Justice Party (PKR), but it pointed to political stability as a factor for a potential withdrawal.
“UMNO is of the view that political stability is very important and economic growth must be enhanced. Any decision that UMNO makes is for the benefit of the people, religion, race and country,” Maslan said, alluding to the nation’s economy that has been battered by ripple effects from the coronavirus pandemic.
During a news conference after he met at the National Palace with King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah, Anwar Ibrahim said that the documents he had shown the monarch made it clear that he had majority support among parliamentarians to form a new government.
Anwar added that more than 120 lawmakers in the country’s 222-seat parliament back his bid to topple Muyhiddin’s unelected seven-month-old government.
“These documents made it abundantly clear that we have registered a formidable and convincing majority among parliamentarians,” Anwar said.
“Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has lost his majority and therefore it would be appropriate for him to resign.”
Anwar, however, did not release or show copies of the documents that he presented to the king.
Last month, when the opposition leader announced that he had secured a “formidable” parliamentary majority to establish a new government, he declined to say how many lawmakers supported him.
Anwar: “Give the King one or two days’
Muhyiddin’s ruling bloc is clinging to a razor-thin majority in Parliament, but his Perikatan coalition got a morale boost after a narrow win in state elections in Sabah last month.
Anwar’s party and its longtime allies, Amanah and the Democratic Action Party (DAP), together have 91 seats in parliament, which means he is currently 21 short of a majority.
According to the Malaysian Constitution, the king has the power to appoint a new prime minister unilaterally if he is convinced that that person commands a parliamentary majority, or the king can dissolve parliament and call elections on the prime minister’s advice.
On Tuesday, Anwar urged the Malaysian public to be patient and asked them to give the king a few days to study the documents.
“Give the King one or two days to look through the documents and to get input from other political party leaders on this,” Anwar said.
The palace, in a statement on Tuesday, confirmed that the King and Anwar met on Tuesday morning after a meeting scheduled between the two for Sept. 22 was postponed because the monarch had fallen ill.
“In the session that went on for 25 minutes, Anwar presented the total number of Members of Parliament whom he claimed to support him. However, he did not produce the list of names of the Members of Parliament to substantiate his claim,” National Palace comptroller Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin said in the statement.
“On that note, the King has advised Anwar to adhere and respect the law process as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.”
The palace did not elaborate on whether the king will be taking any further steps, such as meeting with other parties’ leaders, to validate Anwar’s claim.
In the run up to the Sabah state election last month, Muhyiddin had categorically said that if the local coalition aligned with his ruling bloc did well in the Sabah polls, he would “quickly” hold a general election in the hopes of getting a favorable result that would legitimize his leadership.
The Sabah poll was seen as a referendum on Muhyiddin’s government. This victory “took [the] wind away from Anwar’s sail,” Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told the Associated Press last month after the state polls.
On Tuesday, though, Muhyiddin said he would leave it to the king to decide on Anwar’s claim.
“I don’t want to comment on what Anwar did in the palace. I leave it to the best judgment of the King, who is the most qualified person,” the prime minister told a press conference.
However, Bersatu, Muhyiddin’s party, said Anwar should retire from politics if his bid to form a government fails.
“This is not the first time Anwar has tried to threaten the stability of the government using the same trickery,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Bersatu’s chief spokesman.
“If this is the desperate strategy that he wishes to use, I suggest he retire from national politics and let other figures take over the opposition leadership so that the national opposition can be one that is constructive.”
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, whose surprise resignation in February triggered a political crisis that led to Muhyiddin’s ascension, in a minute-long video clip on Tuesday denied supporting anyone in their bid to become head of the government.
Although he didn’t mention Anwar’s name in his statements, a source in his party said the former PM was referring to Anwar.
“Ladies and gents, I was informed that I allegedly support an individual who is a candidate among those who wish to be Prime Minister. I wish to state that I have not given support to anyone as Prime Ministerial candidate,” Mahathir said.
“[M]y new party, Pejuang, which is independent, is not affiliated to any party or individuals who harbor ambition to hold any position [in government.] I hope there will be no more attempt to suggest that I have supported this or that person. There is no support.”
In the run-up to a historic general election in 2018, Mahathir and Anwar – who was jailed at the time – formed a pact in which Mahathir agree to hand over power to Anwar in two years. But the Pakatan Harapan government that came to power in 2018 collapsed this past February over infighting on the question of who should succeed Mahathir as PM.
Even if the king doesn’t invite Anwar to form the government, Muhyiddin will still be under pressure, especially during an upcoming budget session, because he has such a slim majority in parliament, political scientist Wong Chin Huat told BenarNews.
“From November 9 to December 10, the five weeks when the budget is debated, there are many occasions that the budget can be rejected partly or fully,” said Wong.
“If all 109 opposition MPs vote against it, and at least 5 government MPs are absent for whatever reason, the budget can be defeated and the implication is the same as Muhyiddin losing a vote of no-confidence.”