Malaysia’s king seeks prime minister to end impasse

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s king met with lawmakers 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 fueled concerns in the multiracial nation.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope, it topped Saturday’s poll with 82 parliamentary seats, but fell short of the 112 required for a majority. Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin’s Malay-centric Perikatan Nasional or National Alliance won 73 seats. The hung 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 in Muhyiddin’s bloc, with 49 seats — more than double what it won in 2018. Known as PAS, it supports Islamic Sharia law, rules three states and is now the largest party .

As the contest for the top job continues, police have stepped up security as social media posts warned of racial trouble if Anwar’s multi-ethnic bloc wins. Malay Muslims make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, which include large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

National Police Chief Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said on Wednesday that security has been beefed up in strategic locations across the country to ensure public safety and order. Police have earlier warned of strict action against social media users who incite racial and religious sentiments.

A group of civil society and rights groups said they detected a concerted attempt on social media to promote Muhyiddin’s bloc and demonize Anwar and one of his Chinese-dominated allies, the Democratic Action Party, or DAP . Islamist militants have often used DAP as a bogeyman to warn Malaysians of Chinese political dominance if Anwar’s bloc wins.

The group said in a statement that the publications blamed DAP for inciting violence in 1969 that left hundreds dead, mostly Chinese. An affirmative action program giving Malays privileges in jobs, housing and education was introduced after the 1969 riots to give them more opportunities to narrow the wealth gap with the entrepreneurial Chinese.

“The posts then evolved into videos containing images of guns and weapons, with messages warning the Malaysian majority to beware of DAP and Pakatan Harapan. They also threatened a return of racial unrest,” the group said. Short video app TikTok has reportedly said it has zero tolerance for 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 invited all 30 MPs from the third-largest bloc, the United Malays National Organization-led coalition, to his palace on Wednesday.

UMNO’s National Front said it would not support any leader and would remain in opposition. In a meeting late Tuesday, officials reportedly said the alliance would ask for more time to make a decision.

Anwar’s reformist alliance won the 2018 election that led to the first regime change since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957. But the government collapsed after Muhyiddin defected and joined hands with UMNO to form a new government. Muhyiddin’s government was beset by internal rivalries and he resigned after 17 months. UMNO leader Ismail Sabri Yaakob was then chosen by the king as prime minister.

Many rural Malaysians fear they may lose their rights with greater pluralism under Anwar. Fed up with corruption and infighting in UMNO, many opted for Muhyiddin’s bloc in Saturday’s vote.

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