Anwar Ibrahim has made it “abundantly clear” to the Malaysian King that he has majority support to become prime minister, but the country faces political uncertainty as the head of state weighs competing claims for the government’s top job.
The leader of the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) did not offer the King a list of names of MPs who supported him, according to a statement from the Palace, but said he had the numbers, inviting fresh questions about the validity of his claims.
Anwar met with the monarch for about 30 minutes on Tuesday and afterwards said he had presented documents that made it “abundantly clear we have registered a formidable, convincing majority among parliamentarians”.
The political showdown comes as Malaysia battles a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections and four states re-enter a partial lockdown to control the outbreak.
The eastern state of Sabah is the epicentre of the new outbreak, with cases spiking around the time an election was held last month. Infections have since spread to other parts of the country.
Speaking two hours after his delayed audience with King Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, Anwar again pressed his claim to the job and demanded Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin resign his post.
“I would appeal to Malaysians to exercise patience and wisdom and to allow the King to decide based on the spirit of the Constitution and the discretion of his Highness. Meanwhile, we must also remember that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has lost his majority and therefore it would be appropriate for him to resign,” Anwar said.
“The King assured me in no uncertain terms that he respects the Constitution. I also reiterated the fact that he has discretion and he should be given adequate time to study and digest the papers and documents and to consult the other party leaders.”
Despite Anwar’s claim of majority support, it could be a week or more before a change of power occurs — if indeed it does at all. Resolution may not come until a vote on the floor of the house when parliament sits in early November.
It is still not absolutely clear which members of the governing Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance) coalition government have promised to defect to Anwar’s side, though it is widely thought that some MPs from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) — a handful of whose senior leaders are facing criminal charges — may have.
Anwar dismissed questions about whether deals had been done to protect those facing criminal charges, in exchange for political support.
“Number one, this is an inclusive government, with no political or personal vendetta against anyone. Number two, which is very important, I have already made it abundantly clear that we are committed to reform, to judicial independence and to the rule of law, so there is no question about cutting deals with individuals, as alleged in some quarters.”
He criticised the current government’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak and its lack of plans to revive the economy.
However, Muhyiddin’s government has spent big to try to prop up the economy and Malaysia — which is home to about 31 million people — had kept its total number of infections to about 13,000 until the recent outbreak.
Since October 1, daily cases numbers have bounced from 260 to as high as 691 – forcing the government to order the lockdown.
Under the new conditional Movement Control Order, which applies to the states of Sabah and Selangor and the territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, a maximum of two people are allowed to leave each household and only for work, in an emergency and for essentials such as food.
Parks, restaurants and entertainment venues are shut, as are schools and universities. Weddings are forbidden and religious services are suspended.