KUALA LUMPUR - The leadership tussle in Malaysia remained deadlocked after Perikatan Nasional (PN) chief Muhyiddin Yassin rejected the prospect of working with rival Pakatan Harapan (PH) in a cross-coalition unity government as requested by Malaysia’s King on Tuesday.
While PH leader Anwar Ibrahim said he “accepted the spirit of a unity government”, Tan Sri Muhyiddin ruled out working with PH out of hand, insisting he had sufficient support on his own to become prime minister.
The monarch, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, made the request after he held a one-hour audience at the palace with Datuk Seri Anwar and Mr Muhyiddin.
PH and PN emerged from Saturday’s polls with the largest blocs, but neither of these was sufficient to form the required 112-seat majority in the 222-strong Parliament.
Barisan Nasional, which has 30 seats and could have helped either coalition cross the threshold, announced earlier on Tuesday that it would remain in the opposition.
Mr Muhyiddin insisted he already had the numbers to form a majority government.
“I want to clarify that yesterday, we already submitted the necessary documents to the palace to prove that PN with other parties have 115 MPs backed by statutory declarations,” he told a media conference on Tuesday attended by top figures from his coalition.
“We have discussed the matter from before, and we will not cooperate with PH. That is our stand from before.
“I was asked to sign a document stating whether we agree to form a unity government. I signed but wrote that I disagree,” the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president added.
Mr Anwar is backed by 82 lawmakers from PH and its electoral ally Muda. Mr Muhyiddin has the lead, with 102 MPs – 73 from PN, six from Gabungan Rakyat Sabah and 23 lawmakers from Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).
BN decided not to back any coalition after a meeting on Tuesday morning. It is unclear, therefore, whether Mr Muhyiddin’s insistence that he commands the majority can still stand in the absence of BN support.
Mr Anwar told reporters after the meeting at the palace that the King had advised that “the government that will be formed must represent all parties, all races, religions and regions”.
“Give us some time, and for the King to consider and use his wisdom to make a final call. There was no decision (on who is to be prime minister) yet. There is a vacancy, and it is open for applications,” he said.
The King had summoned both Mr Anwar and Mr Muhyiddin to the palace after the closely fought general election on Saturday resulted in a hung Parliament.
The King is also set to interview BN’s 30 lawmakers individually from Wednesday morning to ascertain whether there is a leader who can command a majority of the Lower House.
Supporters from PH had gathered outside the palace gates, with about 100 of them milling about, according to news site Malaysiakini.
Brickfields police chief Amihizam Abdul Shukor told media personnel there that he will be increasing the number of security personnel present.
Both PH and PN are short of the 112 MPs needed to claim a simple majority in Parliament, and the support of 30 MPs from Umno-led BN would have been enough to get either side past the threshold.
“The BN supreme council has decided not to support either coalition to form the government. BN agreed to remain in opposition,” said caretaker Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
This is despite BN holding shock Monday morning talks with PH leaders, including its prime ministerial candidate Anwar.
“We have made a decision. Leave it to the BN secretary-general to make the statement. No declarations have been signed. We are not siding (with anyone),” Umno’s Jelebu MP Jalaluddin Alias told reporters after the BN meeting on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the King called on all parties to respect the electorate’s decision.
“The people are asked to be patient, and accept the decision of the people, the elected representatives and myself. We have to be rational, we have to move on. Let me make a decision,” the King told the media on Tuesday.
Speaker of Parliament Azhar Harun was seen arriving at the national palace at 1.30pm, local media reported.
PH had held talks with BN to form a government, but several BN MPs have insisted they would not work with Mr Anwar, or the Democratic Action Party, which has the highest number of MPs within PH’s 82-seat bloc.
The Straits Times has learnt that there had been growing momentum within Umno since Monday to stay in the opposition but offer its backing to former premier Muhyiddin, in an arrangement akin to a confidence-and-supply agreement. However, there was also talk that the same deal could be offered to Mr Anwar.
A similar deal was struck when Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob became prime minister last year. PH agreed not to oppose him in parliamentary votes that determine confidence – such as the government budget – while the administration rolled out reforms and policies put forward by the opposition coalition.
“BN is ready to be a responsible opposition to provide a check and balance to the new government,” Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan said on Monday.
“However, if our assistance is required during this post-election transition, we are ready to contribute to open and sincere discussions.”
This came after fierce debate within BN, as many top leaders were shocked and even incensed at the presence of PH figures at their meeting on Monday.
Although Umno president Zahid Hamidi has been at the forefront of the push to back PH, a majority of BN’s MPs will be needed for former deputy premier Anwar to achieve a simple majority.
This is after Parti Warisan Sabah pledged on Tuesday afternoon its three MPs to a PH-BN combination, easing the need for BN to support Mr Anwar en bloc.
On the other hand, with the support of various parties in East Malaysia, Mr Muhyiddin has already surpassed the 100 MP-mark and would need fewer than half of BN’s lawmakers to gain a simple majority.
Coalitions led by his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia won 79 seats – 73 under PN and six by Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) – while Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) contributes 23 more.
On Tuesday, GPS issued a statement saying that while it had proposed a majority government be formed by PN, BN, GPS and GRS, it was leaving the decision on appointing a prime minister to the King’s discretion.
It stressed that the country’s interests and a strong, stable government should come before the party’s own interests.