Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim met the Southeast Asian nation’s king on Tuesday morning and said he passed over documents proving he had the parliamentary support needed to become prime minister and urged incumbent Muhyiddin Yassin to resign.
At a press conference in Kuala Lumpur after the hour-long meeting, Anwar said he had shown the king evidence of his “formidable, convincing majority among parliamentarians”, and that the monarch would now meet party leaders and consider the situation.
The renewed struggle for power comes as Malaysia faces a new wave of coronavirus cases that have prompted the authorities to impose a two-week lockdown in Kuala Lumpur and the neighbouring state of Selangor, the country’s richest state, with effect from midnight (16:00 GMT) on Tuesday.
Should Anwar succeed in securing the post, he would become Malaysia’s third prime minister this year.
Seated alone, Anwar did not disclose the names or allegiances of the parliamentarians supporting him. To a question about whether his backers included those currently facing charges of corruption, he said his would be an “inclusive” government, but anyone joining it would have to respect due legal process.
“There is no political vendetta against anyone,” he said. “But as I have already made it abundantly clear we are committed to institutional reform, judicial independence and the rule of law, there is no issue of cutting deals.”
Anwar has been a fixture of Malaysian politics since the 1970s when he emerged as a student activist. Later recruited into the then dominant United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) by Mahathir Mohamad, he rose rapidly through the ranks to become deputy prime minister and finance minister. But Mahathir sacked his protege in the midst of the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s and charged him with sodomy – an offence in Malaysia – and corruption. Anwar, 73, has spent almost 10 of the past two decades in and out of jail and become a figurehead for reform. He appeared to be on track to becoming prime minister – collaborating again with Mahathir as a result of the multi-billion dollar 1MDB scandal – after his Pakatan Harapan coalition ousted UMNO and its partners in a May 2018 election that saw the country’s first change in government in 60 years. But that government collapsed in February this year, and Muhyiddin – who had also switched allegiance from UMNO to Pakatan – emerged as prime minister after a week of political uncertainty triggered by differences within the Pakatan coalition.
No main party has offered a clear declaration of support for Anwar although one party, which is a member of the ruling coalition, has said some of its MPs support him.
“Should the meeting fail to translate into an actionable outcome, his credibility will be affected and this may push the opposition bloc to find another PM candidate,” Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, senior associate at political consultancy Vriens & Part the Reuters news agency.
King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah plays a largely ceremonial role but he can appoint a prime minister who in his view is likely to command a majority in parliament.