Anwar’s Coalition Fends Off Opposition in Malaysian State Elections

On August 12, six of Malaysia’s 13 states held assembly elections, with the results largely reinforcing the status quo. The outcome was a relief for Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s multi-ethnic coalition, made up of Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional (PH-BN), which retained support in the states of Selangor, Penang, and Negeri Sembilan.

Perikatan Nasional (PN), the nationalist opposition coalition, made inroads in the three other states, winning by a significant margin in Kedah and Kelantan, and claiming all seats in the northern state of Terengganu.

PN, led by the recently acquitted former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, outperformed PH-BN, winning 146 out of 245 contested seats across the six states.

The comeback of a former PM

On August 15, former prime minister Muhyiddin was acquitted of four corruption charges by a Malaysian court. Prosecutors accused him of taking bribes totalling C$67 million to benefit his Malaysian United Indigenous Party (BERSATU). Muhyiddin called the charges “organized political persecution.”

Muhyiddin still faces charges of money laundering. However, his recent acquittal could undermine the legitimacy of the remaining charges. Muhyiddin is now seeking to cement his role within BERSATU and consolidate his position in the PN coalition.

Conflicting takes on the elections from Anwar, Muhyiddin

The opposition gained seats overall and sees the elections as a defeat for Prime Minister Anwar’s PH-BN coalition, with Muhyiddin calling for the prime minister’s resignation. Selangor remains in PH-BN’s control, but the coalition lost seats to the opposition this time around; PN needed just seven more seats to gain a majority in what is typically a stronghold state for PH-BN.

Anwar, Malaysia’s fourth prime minister in the last five years, saw the recent state elections as a success for his coalition government, which, in his view, “remains strong.” The elections were a litmus test for Anwar and his coalition, which, for now, will govern with renewed credibility.