KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia plunged into further political turmoil on Sunday after a hotly contested general election delivered a hung parliament with no clear winner and a surprising surge in support for an Islamist party.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s reformist alliance secured the biggest gain with 82 of 220 parliamentary seats, but fell short of a majority. Close behind was Malaysia-based former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional, or National Alliance, with 73 seats.
The United Malayan National Organization-led alliance, which ruled Malaysia from independence from Britain until 2018, fared worse than in recent polls with upheavals in a number of seats in a clear sign of rejection of the Malays, who opted for Muhyiddin’s bloc. He only won 30 seats.
Other big losers in the election were former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who at 97 leads a separate Malaysian movement.
Many rural Malays, who make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, who include large minorities of ethnic Chinese and Indians, fear losing their rights with greater pluralism. This, coupled with corruption within UMNO, benefited Muhyiddin’s bloc. Its ally, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, emerged victorious. It more than doubled its number of seats to 43, making it the largest party in the country. The PAS, which touts Sharia, rules three states and has a strong Muslim base.
Mahathir lost his seat in northern Langkawi Island in a shock defeat to Muhyiddin bloc. Anwar, 75, won in northern Perak state.
“Malaysians who dislike UMNO switched to PAS because they could never accept Harapan, which they perceived as too liberal and accommodating to non-Malaysians,” said Oh Ei Sun of the Institute of Singapore International Affairs.
The outcome will now see haggling as Muhyiddin and Anwar jostle to form the government. They will need the support of two blocs on the island of Borneo which jointly hold 28 seats. Ironically, UMNO also became the kingmaker.
Anwar told a news conference he had secured written support from lawmakers to secure a simple majority. He said it will have to be submitted to the king of the country, who will have the final say.
“We got a majority…a majority means more than 111,” he said.
Muhyiddin, meanwhile, said he received a letter from the palace indicating that his bloc may have been preferred to form a government on Anwar. He said he was confident he could form a stable government and was ready to work with anyone but Harapan.
UMNO leader Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said in a statement that his alliance had accepted the results. He said the National Front was ready to set aside differences to ensure the formation of a stable government, but gave no further details.
Voting for two federal seats was postponed after the death of a candidate in one constituency and bad weather in another.
The economy and the rising cost of living were top concerns for voters, although many were apathetic due to the political unrest that has led to three prime ministers since the 2018 election.
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Anger over government corruption led to UMNO’s shock defeat in 2018 to Anwar’s bloc which saw the first regime change since Malaysia’s independence in 1957. hope for reform as once-powerful UMNO leaders were imprisoned or tried for corruption. But political trickery and defections from Muhyiddin’s party led to the collapse of the government after 22 months.
UMNO rebounded under a new government with Muhyiddin’s bloc, but infighting led to continued unrest.
Associated Press video reporter Joeal Calupitan in Subang Jaya, Malaysia, contributed to this report.