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Explainer: The fight for Malaysia's premiership

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim set in motion his claim to the premiership on Tuesday when he formally presented documents to the king in a bid to prove he has secured majority support in parliament to form a new government.

FILE PHOTO: Malaysia opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speaks during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia October 13, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng


King Al-Sultan Abdullah was scheduled to meet leaders of key political parties to assess Anwar’s claim of majority support. The king held a similar process in February before appointing current Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to the post.

But the national palace postponed all of the king’s meetings as a partial lockdown started from Wednesday in the capital Kuala Lumpur and the neighbouring state of Selangor amid a spike in coronavirus cases.

The palace said the process could resume at some point after the coronavirus curbs are lifted, during which the king would verify with other political leaders as to whether Anwar truly has their backing to be prime minister.

The king could then appoint Anwar as prime minister if he is convinced that he commands majority support in parliament, or he could dissolve parliament and trigger elections on the prime minister’s advice.


The former ruling party United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is seen as a key player and who they back could very well make, or break, Anwar’s chances at securing the premiership.

UMNO is the largest bloc in Muhyiddin’s seven-month-old administration, which has so far survived on a two-seat parliamentary majority.

But UMNO party leaders have become increasingly unhappy with having to follow instructions from a minority party prime minister.

UMNO announced late Tuesday that it would stop supporting Muhyiddin’s government unless he agrees to some new conditions, and some party leaders later said it would not be surprising if they decide to back Anwar.

“UMNO is just not used to playing second fiddle, which is the main cause of the leadership challenge. By backing Anwar, the party could demonstrate its ability to decide who becomes the prime minister,” said Adib Zalkapli, a director with political risk consultancy BowerGroupAsia.


Should the king appoint Anwar prime minister that would make him the country’s third leader this year after Muhyiddin replaced veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad.

But Anwar would have very little time to set up a new administration and more crucially craft a national budget that analysts say must be able to prop up recovery after the export-reliant economy took a beating from the coronavirus pandemic.

Muhyiddin’s administration is scheduled to table its 2021 Budget on Nov. 6.

“Anwar will have to rely a lot on the bureaucracy if he takes over in the near term, and whatever plans/measures announced (by Muhyiddin) will likely just continue,” said Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, a senior associate with political and policy risk consultancy Vriens & Partners.

“You’re not looking at policy change, just political.”

Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Michael Perry