Parties vie to form new government after Malaysian premier quits – dpa international


Bersih 2.0 protestors gathered under a Kuala Lumpur overhead train line during an August 2015 rally (Simon Roughneen)

Malaysia’s political parties are holding a flurry of meetings as contending factions jostle to replace the Pakatan Harapan/Alliance of Hope coalition government that collapsed on Monday when Mahathir Mohamad resigned as prime minister.

Party representatives lined up to meet Mahathir, who is interim prime minister until a new administration is formed, amid competing claims about who has the 112 parliamentary seats needed for a majority.

Various parties are due to meet Malaysia’s king, Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, later on Tuesday as part of the formalities of setting up a new government.

The king, clad in a shirt and tie, brought burgers and fries to journalists gathered at the palace gate on Tuesday afternoon. He plans to interview each lawmaker individually on Tuesday and Wednesday in attempt to ascertain what grouping has a majority.

Annuar Musa, the secretary-general of the opposition United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), told local media on Tuesday morning that an alliance with several opposition parties – as well as members of the former government, including Mahathir’s Bersatu party – will give UMNO enough MPs to try form a government.

UMNO governed Malaysia as part of the Barisan Nasional/National Front coalition from independence in 1957 until a shock May 2018 election loss to the alliance led by Mahathir in partnership with Anwar Ibrahim, a former foe.

On Sunday, Anwar, 72, the designated successor to 94-year-old Mahathir, alleged “treachery” by former allies who he said were attempting to form a new government at his expense.

Anwar-allied parties are also claiming to have the numbers to retain power. Lim Guan Eng, who was Finance Minister in the government that collapsed on Monday, told a press conference that “I reject the contention that we do not have the majority. I think that can be tested in parliament when it sits again in March.”

Lim Kit Siang, a senior figure in the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which was part of the just-ousted governing coalition, accused rival parties of “hijacking” the 2018 election result.

Bersih (Clean) 2.0, a prominent non-governmental organization that led several prominent protests in Kuala Lumpur over the past decade, warned of repeat demonstrations should a “backdoor” government be formed comprising parties defeated in 2018.

Those demonstrations saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets to call for various political reforms.

The most recent political turmoil comes after Malaysia’s economic growth dipped to a low not seen since the 2008 global financial crisis, numbers that are expected to fall further once the impact of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak is accounted for.

Chinese investment in and tourism to Malaysia have grown substantially over the past decade, leaving Malaysia vulnerable to the virus-related slowdown in China.

Concerns about the twin economic impacts of the China-US trade war and coronavirus prompted Malaysia’s government to put together a stimulus package due to be announced on Thursday. Mahathir, as interim prime minister, has not stated if the economic measures will be published as scheduled.

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