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Malaysia opposition leader Anwar claims 'formidable' majority to form new government

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Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. 

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.  (AP photo)

Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said on Wednesday (Sept. 23) he has secured a ‘strong, formidable’ majority from lawmakers to form a new government and oust Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin from power.

However, it remains uncertain if he would be able to form a government as he is yet to receive the nod from Malaysia’s king, who could instead choose to call for elections on Muhyiddin’s advice to end months of political volatility.

Muhyiddin has a razor-thin majority in parliament and has already hinted at polls to win a stronger mandate.

And there is a risk that political upheavals could delay delivery of government support measures for an export-focused economy that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

If Anwar is awarded the premiership of the multi-ethnic Southeast Asian nation it would mark culmination of 22-year long struggle, during which he spent almost 10 years in jail.

Anwar’s latest bid for power comes less than seven months after Muhyiddin emerged as leader following uncertainties triggered by the resignation of the previous prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad.

“We have a strong, formidable majority. I’m not talking about four, five, six (seats), I’m talking about much more than that,” Anwar told reporters. “With these numbers, Muhyiddin has fallen as PM.”

Anwar said he commanded support from close to two thirds of the legislature’s 222 lawmakers, without giving actual numbers or disclosing who had pledged support, though he did stress that the majority of lawmakers backing him were Malay Muslims.

Muhyiddin’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Representatives for Malaysia’s biggest Malay parties, including the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Islamist party PAS and Mahathir’s party, did not immediately response to requests for comment.

Anwar’s next step would be to meet with the king, Sultan Abdullah. The king plays a largely ceremonial role in Malaysia but he could appoint a prime minister who in his view is likely to command a majority in parliament. He could also dissolve parliament and trigger elections on the premier’s advice.

Anwar said he was scheduled to meet with the king on Tuesday but it had to be cancelled as the king was unwell and had to be taken to a hospital.

Analysts said elections were more likely to end the political uncertainty.

“If Anwar has the numbers, snap polls will be very likely,” said Adib Zalkapli, director at political consultancy BowerGroupAsia.

Muhyiddin came to power in March after securing a parliamentary majority with the support of UMNO, which was defeated in the 2018 election. His opponents have accused him of grabbing power by shifting alliances instead of earning it at the ballot box.

Anwar, 73, has had a tumultuous political career. At first a rising star of Malaysian politics and UMNO, he was jailed for sodomy and corruption after being fired as deputy prime minister by Mahathir in 1998.

He was again jailed on sodomy charges in 2015, when Najib Razak was prime minister.

Anwar and his supporters described all the charges brought against him as a plot to destroy his political career. He was granted a royal pardon in 2018, as part of the deal with Mahathir for him to succeed the premiership, after the two had forged an alliance to defeat Najib in the 2018 election.