Anwar's claim throws Malaysian politics into turmoil again

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s political uncertainty deepened on Thursday (Sept 24) with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s claim that he had secured a formidable majority in Parliament still highly questionable.

But the opposition leader’s audacious bid to seize power was stirring enough debate to raise questions about Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s legitimacy to stay in power.

The political drama was far more subdued on Thursday compared with the day earlier when Datuk Seri Anwar declared that he had secured enough support from parliamentarians to replace the embattled administration of Tan Sri Muhyiddin.

“The question many are asking is whether Anwar has overreached once again,” said a longstanding aide, referring to the episode in 2008 when the former deputy premier said that he had secured the numbers to topple the government of then premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

But other senior operatives in the Anwar camp remained upbeat, arguing that their boss had the necessary numbers. Backing for him, they noted, came from factions within Umno, headed by party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and his predecessor, former premier Najib Abdul Razak, who remains a powerful figure in the party despite being tainted by scandal.

The sources also insisted that the powerful faction in Sarawak better known as GPS, or Gabungan Parti Sarawak, was also backing the opposition leader in his bid for the premiership.

But those claims of support have yet to be accompanied by actual public pledges, either from Umno or GPS, leaving Mr Anwar very much in political limbo for the moment.

But Prime Minister Muhyiddin is also facing problems of his own.

Mr Anwar’s claims of securing a majority together with members of factions within Umno has raised serious questions about Mr Muhyiddin’s wafer-thin majority in Parliament, prompting his predecessor and one-time strongman, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, to call for a vote of confidence on the present government.

Here is a look at the issues and key players in this unfolding saga and the possible scenarios that could shape Malaysia in the coming weeks.

How credible is Anwar’s bid for power?

Despite the scepticism, there is reason to take Mr Anwar’s political gambit seriously. As one senior operative in his Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) said: “This is do or die for Anwar and if he fails this time around, I really do not see him having another chance.”

Confirmation from the Palace on Wednesday that Mr Anwar had been granted an audience with the King, Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin, showed that the opposition leader had the necessary numbers to be taken seriously, said the official, even though that meeting was later postponed because the monarch was admitted to hospital.

Mr Anwar, who turned 73 last month, has worked to keep the core of his Pakatan Harapan (PH) pact, comprising PKR, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara together, while courting other power centres in the country’s fragmented political landscape. Sources say the crucial pieces to his gambit fell in place 10 days ago when he secured support pledges from elected representatives aligned to Zahid and Najib.

What does Anwar need to do next?

Under the Constitution, Mr Anwar must demonstrate that he has the support of the majority of the MPs. Since Parliament is not in session, only Malaysia’s King can resolve this growing political impasse. While his role is largely ceremonial, the monarch has the sole power to appoint the prime minister whom he believes enjoys the majority support of the elected representatives in Parliament.

Mr Anwar must secure an audience to show that he has the numbers and the next couple of days could prove crucial. The opposition leader will need secure more public pledges of support from elected parliamentarians other than from the PKR, DAP and Amanah to compel the Palace to hold the all-important audience with the King to pave the way for the power transition.

What could upset Anwar’s high-stakes political gambit?

The most likely curveball is the prospect that the King will allow Prime Minister Muhyiddin to dissolve Parliament and set the stage for a fresh election. To head off such an outcome, Mr Anwar must demonstrate that he has a very comfortable majority support with enough contingencies to upset any potential applecart.

Former premier Mahathir is another potential spoiler and his proclivity to upset Mr Anwar’s plans cannot be underestimated. But there is a general consensus that Dr Mahathir is no longer a major force in the current political landscape.

What does this political drama mean for PM Muhyiddin?

Even if he survives the latest political onslaught, Mr Muhyiddin’s coalition could still be on thin ice. His government must deliver its annual budget in parliament in early November. If the spending plan is not approved his government technically falls, paving the way for an election.

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