KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s king met with lawmakers on Wednesday in an ongoing search for a prime minister with majority support after an inconclusive general election which has seen the rise of Islamists has sparked concern in the multiracial nation.
Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope, of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, overtook Saturday’s poll with 82 parliamentary seats, but fell short of the 112 needed for a majority. The Malay-centric Perikatan Nasional, or National Alliance, of former Prime Minister Muhyiddin won 73 seats. The suspended parliament has renewed a leadership crisis in Malaysia that has seen three prime ministers since 2018.
The biggest winner was the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, the hardline ally of Muhyiddin’s bloc, with 49 seats, more than double what it won in 2018. Known as PAS, it backs Islamic Sharia, governs three states and is now the largest single party.
As the contest for the top job drags on, police have tightened security as social media posts warned of racial unrest if Anwar’s multi-ethnic bloc wins. Malay Muslims make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, who include significant Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities.
National Police Chief Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said on Wednesday that security had been tightened in strategic locations across the country to ensure public safety and order. Police have previously warned against harsh action against social media users stirring up racial and religious sentiments.
A group of civil society and rights organizations said they detected a coordinated attempt on social media to promote the Muhyiddin bloc and demonize Anwar and one of his China-dominated allies, the Party of Democratic Action, or DAP. Islamic stalwarts have often used the DAP as a bogeyman to warn Malays of Chinese political dominance should the Anwar bloc win.
The group said in a statement that the messages accused DAP of causing violence in 1969 that left hundreds dead, mostly Chinese. An affirmative action program that grants privileges to Malays in jobs, housing and education was introduced after the 1969 troubles to give them more opportunities to narrow the wealth gap with concerned Chinese Business.
“The messages then evolved into videos containing images of weapons and guns, with messages warning the Malay majority to beware of DAP and Pakatan Harapan. They also threatened a return to racial unrest,” the group said. Short video app TikTok has reportedly said it has zero tolerance against any form of hate speech and violent extremism and will remove content that violates its community guidelines.
King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah proposed a unity government after meeting the two leaders on Tuesday, but Muhyiddin rejected the idea. The monarch then summoned the 30 lawmakers from the third-largest bloc, the United Malay National Organization-led alliance, to his palace on Wednesday.
UMNO’s National Front said it would not support either leader and would remain in opposition. At a meeting on Tuesday evening, officials reportedly said the alliance would ask for more time to make a decision.
Anwar’s reformist alliance won the 2018 elections that led to the first regime change since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957. But the government collapsed after the defected from Muhyiddin and joined forces with UMNO to form a new government. Muhyiddin’s government was plagued by internal rivalry and he resigned after 17 months. UMNO leader Ismail Sabri Yaakob was later chosen by the king as prime minister.
Many rural Malays fear losing their rights with greater pluralism under Anwar. Fed up with the corruption and infighting within UMNO, many opted for Muhyiddin’s bloc in Saturday’s vote.