Malaysia’s Anwar Meets King in Bid to Form New Government

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Malaysia’s Anwar Meets King in Bid to Form New Government

The perennial opposition leader failed to produce clinching evidence that he commands a parliamentary majority.

Malaysia’s Anwar Meets King in Bid to Form New Government

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim waves to the media after meeting the nation’s king in Kuala Lumpur on October 13, 2020.

Credit: Associated Press/Vincent Thian

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said he presented the nation’s king with evidence that he has enough support among lawmakers to topple the prime minister and form a new government, an assertion the palace denied.

During his meeting on October 13, Anwar said he presented the monarch with evidence of the support he has from over 120 lawmakers, which would allow him to unseat Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Anwar said the monarch pledged to abide by the constitution, and would consult leaders from other parties before making a decision. He declined to give details, urging Malaysians to be patient and give the king space to review the evidence.

“These documents made it abundantly clear that we have registered a formidable and convincing majority among parliamentarians,” Anwar told a news conference after the royal meeting. “Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has lost his majority and therefore, it would be appropriate for him to resign.”

After that news conference, however, the palace released a statement denying that Anwar provided evidence of support. It said Anwar only told Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah how many lawmakers supported him but didn’t reveal their identities.

It said the king advised Anwar “to abide by and respect the legal process” based on the constitution.

Muhyiddin, who took power in March after securing enough support in Parliament to unseat Anwar’s reformist alliance, has previously dismissed Anwar’s claim to a majority. Muhyiddin currently boasts a slim two-seat majority in the 222-seat Parliament and has been grappling to maintain support amid infighting in his coalition.

Allies in Muhyiddin’s Malay-centric ruling coalition also denied supporting Anwar, and branded Anwar a “desperado” for seeking to wrest power as the country struggles with the coronavirus. The audience with the king was slated three weeks ago, but postponed as the king was hospitalized.

“I frankly do not think it will be a smooth and easy ride for Anwar. For one, even if the king is convinced of Anwar’s command of parliamentary majority, the king still has the alternative constitutional option of dissolving the parliament,” said Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Oh, a Malaysian, said support for Anwar could also have waned as Muhyiddin’s camp may have lured back defectors in the past three weeks.

Anwar’s Alliance of Hope was elected in 2018 but collapsed after Muhyiddin withdrew his party and tied up with opposition parties to form a Malay-centric government in March. Then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad resigned in protest, saying he wouldn’t work with parties accused of corruption that he ousted in the 2018 polls.

Anwar said Tuesday that he extended an olive branch to Muhyiddin to discuss the political change but received no response. He said his new government would also be a majority Muslim government, but pledged to be fair to all races and committed to reforms.

If Anwar succeeds, it will mark a dramatic comeback after his roller-coaster political journey since the 1990s. Once a high flyer in the ruling party, Anwar was convicted of homosexual sodomy and corruption after a power struggle with Mahathir in 1998. He was imprisoned for a second time for sodomy in 2014.

Anwar and his supporters have long denied the sodomy allegations, saying they were concocted to destroy his political career.

Rather than give up, Anwar ended his feud with Mahathir from his prison cell to forge a coalition called Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope), which in the 2018 polls defeated the coalition that had led Malaysia for 61 years.

Mahathir became premier a second time. Anwar was freed with a royal pardon days after the polls and was Mahathir’s designated successor before their alliance fell apart.

By Eileen Ng for the Associated Press