02/25/2020, 18.02
MALAYSIA
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King seeking a new majority after Mahathir's resignation

Any new government needs least 112 votes in parliament. This is the first time the king is playing a crucial role. The political crisis follows rumours about a new alliance being formed. The prime minister had promised to hand over power to his ally Anwar. The early end of the government casts shadows on the transition.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Malaysia woke up this morning without a government, but "despite political tensions, the atmosphere in the country is very relaxed,” said Anil Netto, an editorial writer, who spoke to AsiaNews, commenting on the confusion that followed the resignation of Mahathir Mohamad (pictured) as prime minister.

Last night, divisions with the ruling coalition prompted the prime minister to quit as head of the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, Bersatu), which led his party to leave the same ruling coalition, the Alliance of Hope (Pakatan Harapan, PH).

Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, 16th Yang of-Pertuan Agong (king) of Malaysia, accepted the resignation of the 94-year-old Mahathir. The latter remains as caretaker head of government. The cabinet also resigned.

Today and tomorrow, the king will hold talks with each of the 221 Members of Parliament (except Mahathir) to see if anyone has a majority of at least 112 MPs. This is a first in the history of Malaysia, to have the king select the head of the next Malaysian government.

The political crisis follows rumours about the creation of a new coalition government in lieu of the one led by the PH. Yesterday, the Minister of Economic Affairs, Mohamed Azmin bin Ali, led 11 MPs from Anwar Ibrahim's People's Justice Party (Parti Keadilan Rakyat, PKR) to withdraw from the coalition.

For some observers, the various moves are part of an attempt to prevent Anwar from becoming prime minister, in accordance with an electoral agreement made with Mahathir. Less than two years ago the latter, a former prime minister between 1981 and 2003, came out of retirement to join forces with Anwar, his former successor and eventual rival.

In May 2018, the two defeated the National Front (Barisan Nasional, BN) coalition, which had ruled the country since 1957, the year of independence. Recently, supporters of the 72-year-old Anwar had begun to pressure the elderly leader about a handover.

“Two years ago, Pakatan Harapan formed the government because its promises of change and its opposition to corruption and racial barriers had convinced the Malaysians,” said Anil Netto, who focuses on issues of human rights and socio-economic justice.

According to Netto, “Relations between the two main parties have been tense. At present, the country is waiting to see which coalition will emerge from the talks between our agong (king) and MPs. Mahathir is likely to get a new majority, but no one can predict who will be part of it.” The parties that were in opposition until yesterday night will not be able to propose a new government to the king.

“The main parties from Sabah and Sarawak will likely be the king-makers,” Netto explained. These states have the largest concentrations of Christians. In Sarawak, Christianity is the largest group (42.6 per cent); in Sabah, it is the second (26.6 per cent) after Islam (65.4 per cent).

“Now, MPs from the two states will have more room to negotiate a more important role. For many, these territories are a model of harmony and pluralism.”

With respect to the confused political situation, “It is widely held that politicians should put aside their political interests and focus more on issues such as the rising cost of living, a real burden on people.”

“The situation is very fluid; some feel they have been betrayed.” But “Once the new government coalition is announced the day after tomorrow, everything will be clearer.”

“It should be stressed that, despite political tensions, the atmosphere is very relaxed. Security forces are keeping a low profile. Had this happened 20-30 years ago, it could have turned into a tragedy.” Instead, the calm “is a positive sign because even at moments such as these, people still feel represented.” (PF)

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