Tense week ahead for Malaysian politics, with Anwar set to meet King to stake claim for power

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said Malaysian Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin had agreed to grant him an audience on Oct 13, 2020.
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said Malaysian Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin had agreed to grant him an audience on Oct 13, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said on Thursday (Oct 8) that the King, Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin, has granted him an audience next Tuesday over his claims that he has secured a formidable majority among the country’s elected parliamentary representatives to form a new government.

A scheduled meeting on Sept 22 was postponed after the monarch was taken ill, Datuk Seri Anwar said in a statement.

“At the meeting, I will present documentation of the strong and convincing majority of MPs as I mentioned earlier,” he said.

The 73-year-old Mr Anwar, in a bombshell announcement three weeks ago, declared that he had secured support from a majority of the MPs to replace the embattled administration of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who was appointed premier in early March.

He came into office after the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition government headed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad - which included Mr Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) - collapsed following a series of defections by elected representatives, including from the PKR. 

Mr Anwar’s late September bid to form the government was quickly endorsed by allies from the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara, both of which were also in the PH, and subsequently gained further traction after Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the president of the long established Umno and chairman of the Barisan Nasional coalition, declared that he would not stop lawmakers under his charge from backing the opposition leader’s bid to wrest control of the government.

Mr Anwar has yet to publicly declare the extent of his support among the country’s 222 elected parliamentary representatives. His initial attempt to do so was thwarted because the King was unexpectedly rushed to hospital for food poisoning and sports injuries. Sultan Abdullah was discharged from hospital on Oct 2.

Highly placed sources from PKR say the palace has set several conditions for a power grab, including a minimum majority of 118 lawmakers in the Lower House, to justify an audience.

Under the country’s Constitution, the King, the position of which is rotated among the heads of the country’s nine royal households every five years, has the sole prerogative to appoint the prime minister who he believes has the majority support of MPs.

“The King is very detailed and meticulous. He (Anwar) wouldn’t be getting the meeting if he did not have the numbers,” said a long-time Anwar associate who is directly involved in the opposition leader’s current campaign for the premiership, a post that has eluded him since the late 1990s when he fell out spectacularly with former premier Mahathir. 

Mr Anwar, who as deputy premier was then just a heartbeat away from the top office, was eventually imprisoned twice.

He currently leads the PH coalition with 91 elected representatives, and senior PKR sources confirm that he has received support for his bid to wrest power from factions within Umno, particularly MPs aligned to Mr Zahid and former premier Najib Razak, who have fallen out with Tan Sri Muhyiddin. Elected representatives from the east Malaysia states of Sabah and Sarawak are also supporting the move, said the PKR sources.

Mr Muhyiddin, who is undergoing self-quarantine after a Cabinet minister tested positive for Covid-19, has yet to comment on Mr Anwar’s audience with the King next week.

But businessmen close to the Premier said that his already tenuous grip on power has come under serious pressure in recent weeks following open disagreements with Umno leaders.

Umno, with 39 elected representatives, dominates the current pact propping up the Muhyiddin-led Perikatan Nasional government, which only has a razor-thin two-seat majority in Parliament.