On Thursday, political veteran Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Malaysia’s new prime minister after several days of uncertainty following Saturday’s general election. None of the three major coalitions won enough seats to form a government, but incumbent Barisan Nasional, after direct entreaties by the Malaysian king, finally agreed to join Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan coalition, pushing the latter past the 112-seat threshold.
How the coalitions fared
Anwar’s ‘Alliance of Hope,’ a reform-oriented multiethnic coalition, won the most seats, with 82. Perikatan Nasional, which favours the Malay majority and is headed by former Malaysian prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, trailed with 73 seats. Barisan Nasional includes the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party, which has long been dominant in Malaysian politics. But the coalition still netted only 30 seats. UMNO’s standing has been tarnished by its affiliation with the massive 1MDB corruption scandal.
Post-election uncertainty persists
The new prime minister will have his work cut out for him. Malay identity and Islam have gained strength in Malaysian politics. For example, 49 of the seats held by the Perikatan Nasional were won by the PAS, a hardline Islamic party that advocates for Sharia law. The PAS made surprise gains this time around, more than doubling the number of seats it won in 2018. The ascendancy of such forces has some Malaysians on edge, especially the country’s ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities. Anwar’s other challenge: the economy and rising inflation, which were top of mind for 74 per cent of voters, according to a pre-election poll. Voters also say they are tired of the political instability that has characterized Malaysian politics since the last general election in 2018. But stability is far from certain as the country settles into its shaky new status quo.