KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s king met lawmakers Wednesday in a continuing search for a prime minister with majority support after inconclusive general elections that saw the rise of Islamists sparked anxieties in the multiracial nation.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope, topped Saturday’s poll with 82 parliamentary seats, but failed to reach the 112 needed for a majority. Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin’s Malay-centric Perikatan Nasional, or National Alliance, won 73 seats. The hung parliament renewed a leadership crisis in Malaysia that saw three prime ministers since 2018.
The biggest winner was the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, the hard-line ally in Muhyiddin’s bloc, with 49 seats — more than double what it won in 2018. Known as PAS, it backs Islamic Shariah law, rules three states and is now the single largest party.
As the contest for the top job drags on, police have tightened security as posts on social media warned of racial troubles if Anwar’s multiethnic bloc wins. Malay Muslims form two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, who include large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
National police chief Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said Wednesday that security has been tightened at strategic locations nationwide to ensure public safety and order. Police have earlier warned of stern action against social media users fanning racial and religious sentiments.
A group of civil society and rights organizations said they detected a coordinated attempt on social media to promote Muhyiddin’s bloc and demonize Anwar and one of its Chinese-dominated allies, the Democratic Action Party, or DAP. Islamic stalwarts have often used DAP as a bogeyman to warn Malays of Chinese political dominance if Anwar’s bloc wins.
The group said in a statement that the posts blamed DAP for causing violence in 1969 that left hundreds dead, mostly Chinese. An affirmative action program that gives privileges to Malays in jobs, housing and education was introduced after the 1969 unrest to give them more opportunities to narrow the wealth gap with the business-minded Chinese.
“The posts 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 of racial unrest,” the group said. Short video app TikTok 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 Tuesday but Muhyiddin rejected the idea. The monarch then summoned all 30 lawmakers from the third largest bloc, the alliance led by the United Malays National Organization, to his palace Wednesday.
UMNO’s National Front has said it will support neither leader and remain in opposition. At a meeting late Tuesday, officials reportedly said the alliance will ask for more time to make a decision.
Anwar’s reformist alliance won 2018 elections 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 picked by the king as the prime minister.
Many rural Malays 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.