Malaysian politics was in turmoil Monday after leader-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim denounced a “betrayal” by coalition partners he said were trying to bring down the government, two years after it stormed to victory.
Anwar’s “Pact of Hope” alliance was thrown into crisis after his rivals within the coalition and opposition politicians met at the weekend reportedly to try to form a new government.
Speculation is mounting that Anwar, who had been the presumptive successor to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, and his lawmakers would be left out of any new coalition, ending his hopes of becoming premier any time soon.
According to reports, the proposed new government includes Mahathir Mohamad party, the United Malays National Organization — the party of scandal-tainted ex-leader Najib Razak, which was ousted at the 2018 polls — and a hard-line Islamist group.
However, it was still unclear Monday morning whether the push to form a new government would succeed and Mahathir is yet to comment publicly.
Anwar said late Sunday he was “shocked” at the bid to topple the ruling coalition, describing it as a “betrayal, because there has been a promise (to hand over power to me).”
Anwar — a former opposition icon who was jailed for years on widely-criticized sodomy charges — was expected later Monday to meet the king, who must give his assent to the formation of a new government.
He had teamed up with former nemesis Mahathir ahead of the 2018 elections to oust the government of Najib, who had become embroiled in the massive 1MDB graft scandal.
They led an alliance to an unexpected victory against a coalition that had ruled Malaysia uninterrupted for over six decades, and 94-year-old Mahathir agreed to eventually hand power to Anwar.
But Mahathir Mohamad, in his second stint as premier after first holding the role from 1981 to 2003, has repeatedly refused to say when he will transfer power, stoking tensions within the four-party coalition.
The alliance’s popularity had plummeted as it was accused of failing to raise living standards and protect the rights of the ethnic Malay Muslim majority, and it lost a string of local polls.
After the weekend meetings, analysts said the government stood little chance of surviving.
James Chin, a Malaysia expert at the University of Tasmania, said many Muslims were unhappy with the government and believed the argument put forward by opponents that it was being dominated by ethnic Chinese politicians.
“They want Mahathir in power, and they want Malay supremacy,” he said.
Race is a highly sensitive issue in Malaysia. About 60 percent of the population is Muslim but it is also home to substantial ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
Many were angry, however, that the democratically elected government, which came to power partly on a pledge to push through much-needed reforms, could be replaced without an election.
The people “will not agree to or cooperate with any ‘backdoor’ government formed out of the selfish, self-preservation agenda of certain MPs,” said a statement from a group of leading activists and academics.
Some called for a snap poll, although politicians appeared to be trying to form a new government without holding an election.