Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said on Wednesday he had secured a “strong majority” from lawmakers to form a new government, seven months after a power grab within the ruling coalition brought down the administration elected in May 2018.
Anwar said he had been “approached by a number of MPs from various parties” who were unhappy with the existing leadership of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
Sitting next to his wife, Anwar told a news conference his support from lawmakers “means that the administration of Muhyiddin has fallen” and insisted that his government had the mandate of the people.
He declined to reveal the numbers backing him, but said he would do so after seeking an audience with the king, who is currently receiving treatment at the national heart hospital in Kuala Lumpur.
Muhyiddin emerged as Malaysia’s prime minister in March after a week of political turmoil when several disgruntled members of the then-ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition joined forces with parties that had lost power in 2018. The move led to the resignation of 95-year-old Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister.
Anwar said Muhyiddin’s government, and its “70 ministers”, had spent too much time “distributing positions, appointments and contracts in order to cling to (an) extremely bare and razor-thin majority.”
Even within the opposition ranks, Anwar’s support does not seem assured. Local media reported that while Amanah, an Islamic party, was backing Anwar, Mahathir’s new party was not.
Senior politicians in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which returned to power with Muhyiddin, described Anwar’s move as a “gimmick” while former ally turned rival Mohamed Azmin Ali, who led the power grab that ended Pakatan Harapan’s administration and is now Minister of International Trade and Industry, tweeted: “Incorrigible liar and political psychopath.”
Bridget Welsh, an honorary research associate at the University of Nottingham’s Asia Research Institute and an expert on Malaysian politics, said Anwar would need to show the numbers.
“There has been underlying political instability for some time and many of these negotiations have been taking place,” she said. “We are now seeing them come to the fore. There are divisions within Muhyiddin’s government and there are divisions within Anwar’s supporters. This is something that’s very fluid but very real.”
Campaigning currently underway in Malaysia’s Borneo state of Sabah has revealed some of the stresses and strains within the various blocs. Muhyiddin’s coalition is hoping to wrest control of the state government from an administration friendly to the opposition.
The state has also emerged as a new hotspot for the COVID-19 outbreak in Malaysia, with people confirmed to have the virus told they will not be able to vote.
“The people of Malaysia deserve leadership which can navigate effectively during these turbulent times,” Anwar said in a statement. “Instead we have an unstable government whose inability to handle the crisis is driving the country towards an economic recession and rising racial tension.”
Muhyiddin spoke to the country later on Wednesday, in a pre-scheduled address on state television. He focussed on financial measures to help people cope with the effect of the pandemic, but made no mention of Anwar’s announcement.
The next parliamentary session is not due until November.