Prime Minister Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim (age 75) at a Pakatan Harapan rally/Ref: CNN
What just happened?
The stars have seemed to be aligned for Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim (DSAI) this year. During Malaysia’s 15th General Election last week, on the 19th of November 2022, the leader of the opposition managed to secure the constituency of Tambun. A seat that he had never contested before and chose in order to prove the strength of his coalition. DSAI has spent 25 years as an opposition figure, since 1998 when he was sacked as Mahathir’s deputy prime minister.
DSAI’s story is so famous that an Indonesian movie staring Farid Kamil,regarding his arrest and struggle is due to release next year.
Left: real photo of Anwar entering a police car, Right: Anwar Biopic/ref: r/malaysia
For those unclear on the parties’ who happened during the election (you may read our article on the parties’ respective manifestos here as well as the key seats of the election here), DSAI’s Pakatan Harapan (translating to Pact/Coalition of Hope) party won the most seats out of any party in the election with 82 seats.
This was followed by the Perikatan Nasional (translating to National Alliance) party, led by former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin with 72 seats.
These two giants are followed by incumbent ruling party Barisan Nasional (National Coalition) with 30 seats, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (Sarawak Party Coalition) with 22 seats and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (People’s Coalition of Sabah) with 6 seats in total.
Diagram of a breakdown of Parliament seats/ ref: The Tapir Journal
As you can tell by the split diagram, this meant that no party commanded a simple majority of 112 seats required to form a government and Malaysia’s parliament was hung for the very first time in history.
Why was media coverage so confusing?
To put it simply, its because political alliances shifted fervently. What followed over the days after the election was a back and forth news cycle of both DSAI’s Pakatan Harapan and Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional claiming they had the numbers to form a majority.
Initially, the day after elections Perikatan Nasional claimed in a public statement that they were going to form a government with the support of Barisan Nasional, Gabungan Parti Sarawak and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah. Simultaneously, from election night itself Pakatan Harapan claimed they had the numbers but refused to name which of the parties supported his cause.
Gabungan Parti Sarawak and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah later combined their seats to form a Borneo bloc and even released a statement stating they supported Perikatan Nasional to form a government. This was followed by intense petitions in the tens of thousands by Borneans who were against supporting Perikatan Nasional, a party where the Malaysian Islamic Party is the largest individual faction.
To add further twist Barisan Nasional followed with a statement by party President Zahid Hamidi that they did not in fact support the Perikatan Nasional party to form a government and had not even sat down to discuss with them.
This confusing turn of events was finally put to an end when DSAI’s Pakatan Harapan reached across the political aisle to reach the support of Barisan Nasional, giving them a simple majority of 112 seats.
On November 24th, after completing the formal swearing-in ceremony at the National Palace, DSAI’s Pakatan Harapan announced Pakatan Harapan not only had the support of Barisan Nasional, but also Gabungan Parti Sarawak (22 seats). This brings the current ruling government a majority of 134 seats out of 222.
DSAI getting sworn in by the Sultan: Ref/The Times Israel
So what now?
Historically, the first 100 days of any new reign is extremely crucial to how the public views their efficacy. In 2018, the Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan had 10 policies in their 100-day manifesto, and were politically lambasted when they had only accomplished 2 of those policies.
DSAI has steered clear of preparing this expectation by not having a 100-day manifesto in order to prevent the same criticisms being levelled at his government.
It seems like DSAI’s first few days have been going well, on his first day Malaysia experienced a 2-month stock market high and the Malaysian ringgit strengthened 1.8% against the US dollar.
However these factors cannot not be taken as indicative of how good of a Prime Minister he will be. For that we must look towards the proposed policies.
The first policy challenge will be appointing his cabinet. Al-Jazeera reports that DSAI needs to build trust from the people and key among that is picking the right people to form his cabinet.
Anwar stressed during a late night event 2 days ago, “We will never compromise on good governance, the anti-corruption drive, judicial independence and the welfare of ordinary Malaysians,”.
He faces a dilemma in that in whether to select his own daughter Nurul Izzah, or his own wife MP Wan Azizah as members of his cabinet. A choice that could lead to questions of nepotism that new opposition forces could set ablaze should they incur any failure.
As for Anwar himself, the former finance minister has said he has not considered electing himself as the new finance minister. Another move that would exemplify good governance by removing doubts on over-centralisation of power.
He has also stated he will not take salary during his time in office and will reduce the size of the cabinet which has ballooned to 70 members in recent years.
On anti-corruption, Anwar has recommended the formation of a bi-partisan MACC committee to prevent political meddling.
Anwar walks into a post election environment where ethnic tensions are high. Tiktoks and facebook videos threatening a “second May 13” incident have sporadically appeared. The police have warned posting this provocative content will result in punishment. Nevertheless, it shows that there are extreme doubts by the Malay conservative electorate that Pakatan Harapan is a too liberal and secular for their tastes.
In his maiden press conference, Anwar seems to assooth these concerns by listing 3 priorities in the following order: dignifying Bahasa Malaysia, preserving royal sovereignty and the Malays' special position, good governance and enhancing economic stability.
There is also a question on how solid this coalition can hold in the presence of a powerful Perikatan Nasional who will no doubt be trying to convince the public they are best suited. While MPs are no longer allowed to party-hop according to Malaysian law, the loophole to this is that entire parties may still switch coalitions.
This new coalition no doubt be tenuous at times especially considering how component party Barisan Nasional has had many top brass members publicly oppose the decision and call for UMNO President Dato Seri Dr Zahid Hamidi to resign. These names include former Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, a public statement by the MCA and 130 UMNO division chiefs.
In that sense keeping support of Barisan Nasional and GPS will be essential to maintain rule.
Anwar has called a vote of confidence on the 19th of December as a public show of force that he indeed has the hard majority he claims. Following that, the pivotal challenge will be to decide Budget 2023 where Anwar’s policies will have to prove they can “revive the economy”
Follow The Tapir Journal for news on this when new information comes to light.