Malaysia poll prolongs political turmoil

Malaysia's political leaders are scrambling to secure support from rivals after a general election that produced a hung parliament, with no coalition winning a parliamentary majority.

Longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin each said they could form a government with support from other parties, whom they did not identify.

A record number of Malaysians voted, hoping to end a spell of political uncertainty at a time of slowing economic growth and rising inflation in the Southeast Asian nation, which has had three prime ministers in as many years.

The instability reflects a political transformation in a country that has for decades been one of the most stable in a region that has had its share of military coups, violent political upheavals and insurgencies.

Saturday's election saw the further decline of a force that dominated politics from independence in 1957 until 2018 and gains by an Islamist party that has called for sharia law.

Forming a government may require the involvement of Malaysia's king, whose largely ceremonial role includes the power to appoint as prime minister a lawmaker he believes will command a majority when no coalition can do so on its own.

The palace on Sunday instructed the parties to each present the name of a lawmaker it thinks has a majority by 2pm (0600 GMT) Monday.

Anwar's Pakatan Harapan coalition won 82 lower house seats, short of the 112 majority but slightly ahead of Muhyiddin Yassin's alliance with 73.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob's Barisan Nasional alliance - whose United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) had long been Malaysia's dominant political force - suffered its worst electoral defeat ever, winning 30 of the 178 seats it contested.

Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional coalition, in its first national contest, pulled support from Barisan's traditional base.

"I think what we learned here is that the country is more divided," said Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, deputy managing director at political risk consultancy BowerGroupAsia.

"With Perikatan Nasional making inroads into UMNO's vote bank, it shows that there are three legitimate coalitions in the future of Malaysian politics."

Fighting against UMNO, which he had once led, Malaysia's longest-serving premier Mahathir Mohamad, 97, lost his seat in his first election defeat in 53 years.

The Islamist PAS party in the Perikatan coalition was a key winner, securing the largest number of seats of any single party.

Race and religion are divisive issues in Malaysia, where the mostly Muslim Malays are the majority of the population, with sizable ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

Smaller political blocs based in Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo island, which have sought greater autonomy, could play decisive roles if they align with either coalition.

Muhyiddin said he had met with Sarawak's state leader and was in discussions with other parties about forming a government.