Malaysia’s Anwar fails to win king’s support to oust PM

Palace says he did not give ‘names and details’ to verify 120-plus backers

(Nikkei Asia) – Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Tuesday said he presented the country’s king with documents proving he has majority support in the lower house of parliament, as he strives to topple the current government led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

A statement from the palace, however, suggested the evidence was not quite as airtight as Anwar made it out to be.

Anwar, speaking to reporters after an audience with King Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin, said the monarch would now take time to personally confer with the party leaders who he claims are in his corner.

“One thing is clear — that Muhyiddin’s government has fallen and he must resign,” said Anwar, flanked by his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as well as Saifuddin Nasution, secretary-general of his People’s Justice Party.

Anwar, 73, said he presented legitimate documentation showing that more than 120 lawmakers support him to form a new government. He would only need 112.

Anwar said the king assured him that he would go through the papers diligently before making a decision. Anwar declined to give a time frame for when that decision can be expected, but said party leaders would be receiving calls in the next two days.

Shortly after Anwar’s news conference, the National Palace released a statement acknowledging the meeting but denying that Anwar had presented detailed proof of a lower house majority.

“Anwar Ibrahim presented the total number of lawmakers who he claims to support him,” the palace said. “He, however, to strengthen his claim, did not furnish names and details of the members of parliament who he claims to support him.”

The palace added that at the end of the 25-minute audience, the king advised Anwar to abide by and respect the legal processes as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

In his media briefing, Anwar vowed that if he can form a government, it would take an inclusive approach for the benefit of all Malaysians; would be committed to institutional reform; and would not compromise with any politicians currently facing numerous criminal charges in court.

“What I assured them [the charged politicians] was there will be no political vendetta and they will have to go through the due process with an independent judiciary,” he said.

Anwar has been fighting to become prime minister for the past 22 years. Last month, he jolted the country with his claim that he commands a “formidable, strong and convincing” parliamentary majority, further destabilizing Muhyiddin’s shaky government.

On Tuesday evening, Muhyiddin, 73, told local media that he did not want to comment on Anwar’s latest move but said he trusts the king’s “best judgment.” He also noted that while Anwar was at the palace, he was busy fulfilling his duties as prime minister and focusing on COVID-19.

At the last official count, the Muhyiddin-led National Alliance had the support of 114 MPs, a razor-thin majority over the minimum 112 needed to form a federal government. Anwar controlled 91 MPs via the Hope Pact comprising his People’s Justice Party, the Democratic Action Party and the National Honest Party, while former premier Mahathir Mohamad held sway over 15 MPs including independents and members of the Sabah Heritage Party.

Anwar was twice Mahathir’s heir apparent during the latter’s terms as prime minister.

But Anwar’s leadership hopes first fizzled in 1998, when Mahathir sacked him as his deputy over allegations of corruption and sodomy, for which he was jailed from April 1999 to 2004. Muslim-majority Malaysia criminalizes homosexuality and offenders can be imprisoned for up to 20 years, as well as whipped.

Anwar was charged again in July 2008 for alleged sodomy involving a personal aide and was sentenced to five years. He and his supporters blame all his legal troubles on a political vendetta.

Mahathir and Anwar appeared to mend fences when they teamed up to defeat Najib Razak in the May 2018 election, ending the 61-year rule of the National Front. Anwar was soon released on a full pardon by the king, while Mahathir became prime minister for the second time.

Anwar was expected to eventually take over, but Mahathir resigned earlier this year following an internal coup by a Muhyiddin-led faction. Ties between Mahathir and Anwar have been uneasy since.

In a video released Tuesday evening, the 95-year-old Mahathir denied supporting “anyone” to become prime minister, without naming Anwar.

While Anwar has long been perceived as a leader-in-waiting, there are also questions about the breadth of his support in Malaysia, where many conservative Muslims consider him to be very liberal.