Hung Parliament in Malaysia; Anwar and Muhyiddin stake rival claims to form government

Pakatan Harapan supporters waving party flags at Dorsett Grand Subang, where the party leaders are gathering, early on Nov 20, 2022.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysians have voted in the country’s first-ever hung Parliament, with the three main national coalitions failing to secure a simple majority of 112 seats in a fiercely fought general election on Saturday.

A clutch of big names, including former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, were vanquished as official results as at 4am on Sunday left Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Perikatan Nasional (PN) neck and neck with 82 and 73 parliamentary seats each, and the Umno-led ruling alliance Barisan Nasional (BN) trailing behind with only 30 wins.

Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) has 22 seats, putting it on track to become a kingmaker for the next federal government.

With 219 seats accounted for, there is just one seat for which results have yet to be announced.

Both PH leader Anwar Ibrahim (left) and PN chief Muhyiddin Yassin staked their claim to form Malaysia’s next government. 
PHOTO: The Straits Times

PH chief Anwar Ibrahim won a four-cornered fight in Tambun with a majority of 3,736 votes, comfortably defeating his closest challenger Faizal Azumu, a federal minister and former Perak Menteri Besar.

Former premier Muhyiddin Yassin retained his Pagoh parliamentary ward, which he first won in 1978, with a 10,007-vote majority.

The PN chairman said early on Sunday that his coalition would hold discussions with parties from Sabah and Sarawak to form the federal government but discounted the idea of working with arch-rival PH.

PN supporters were heard shouting “Tolak Zahid,” or “Reject Zahid” in a reference to Umno president Zahid Hamidi, who is fighting 47 corruption charges in court.

Umno performed dismally in the election but still secured 30 seats, making it a potential partner to boost PN’s numbers. Zahid won his seat by a razor-thin 348 majority, and his closest rival, PH’s Shamsul Iskandar, has called for a recount.

Opposition leader Anwar made a similar claim, around the same time, that his PH coalition had gained a simple majority of more than 112 parliamentary seats, enough to form the next government. But he stopped short of revealing which parties he would be forming a pact with, with PH needing the support of at least 30 more MPs.

Among the upsets was the crushing defeat of Malaysia’s longest-serving ex-premier Mahathir, who failed to retain his seat – Langkawi island in Kedah. He secured just 4,566 votes, losing his deposit as PN’s Suhaimi Abdullah had the backing of 25,463 voters.

Malaysia’s longest-serving MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah lost his Gua Musang seat in Kelantan to PN. The BN stalwart – who has held the seat for 12 terms since 1974 – polled 21,663 votes, which is just 163 votes fewer than the winning candidate Mr Mohd Azizi, who claimed 21,826 votes.

Ms Nurul Izzah Anwar, daughter of opposition leader Anwar, was defeated in the family seat of Permatang Pauh in Penang, once considered a bastion for their Parti Keadilan Rakyat, which leads PH.

Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari from PH secured 72,267 votes in Gombak, in a comfortable win over former mentor Azmin Ali from PN, who took 59,538 votes.

Umno’s attempts to make inroads in PH stronghold Selangor also faltered as caretaker ministers leading the charge failed to win.

Caretaker Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin and caretaker Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz bettered BN’s performance in 2018, but lost in Sungai Buloh and Kuala Selangor, respectively, as their coalition failed to score a single win in Malaysia’s richest state.

Only the three Umno-held states held concurrent polls for their legislative assemblies and results at press time show the party has failed to hold Perlis, while it is not on course to gain simple majorities in Perak and Pahang.

A record 945 candidates contested the 222 parliamentary seats, while over 21 million people were eligible to vote. But only 220 parliamentary seats completed balloting on Saturday. Voting was suspended in Baram, Sarawak, due to bad weather and floods. And the election in Padang Serai, Kedah, has been postponed to Dec 7 after its incumbent MP and PH candidate Karupaiya Mutusami died on Wednesday.

Long queues at voting centres nationwide from early morning indicated a surge in interest, despite reports of political fatigue prior to the two weeks of official campaigning that began on Nov 5.

Early voters queueing to cast their ballots in Tambun, Perak on Nov 19, 2022.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

As at 4pm, the Election Commission said turnout stood at 70 per cent, or 14.8 million voters, surpassing the 12.3 million who cast their ballots in 2018.

Although pollsters on Friday predicted that Datuk Seri Anwar’s PH was likely to win the most seats but fall short of a simple majority, they also warned that dozens of constituencies remained too close to call.

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“Elections are the will of the people. We have to wait for their decision. I am cautiously optimistic looking at the level of support throughout the country,” Mr Anwar told reporters after voting in his hometown of Permatang Pauh, Penang.

Given the failure of any coalition to clinch a simple majority of at least 112 seats, a protracted period of negotiations to form a government is expected to ensue from Sunday.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.