KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s king met with lawmakers Wednesday in an ongoing search for a majority-supported prime minister after inconclusive general elections that sparked the rise of Islamists. anxiety in the multiracial nation.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope, led Saturday’s poll with 82 parliamentary seats but failed to reach the 112 needed for a majority. Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin’s Malay-focused Perikatan Nasional, or National Alliance, won 73 seats. The hung parliament renewed a leadership crisis in Malaysia that has seen three prime ministers since 2018.
The biggest winner was the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party, Muhyiddin’s hardline bloc ally, with 49 seats, more than double what it won in 2018. Known as PAS, it backs Islamic Shariah law, governs three states and now it is the biggest party.
As the competition for the top job drags on, police have tightened security as social media posts warned of racial issues if Anwar’s multi-ethnic bloc wins. Malay Muslims make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people, who include large Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities.
National Police Chief Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said Wednesday that security has been tightened at strategic locations across the country to ensure public order and safety. Police previously warned against cracking down on users of social media who foster racial and religious sentiments.
A group of civil society and human rights organizations said it detected a coordinated 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. Islamic stalwarts have often used DAP like a bogeyman to warn Malays of Chinese political dominance if Anwar’s bloc wins.
The group said in a statement that the publications blamed the DAP for causing violence in 1969 that left hundreds dead, mostly Chinese. After the riots of 1969 an affirmative action program was introduced that grants privileges to Malays in employment, housing and education to give them more opportunities to reduce the wealth gap with the business-minded Chinese.
“The posts then turned into videos containing images of guns and pistols, with messages warning the Malay majority to beware of DAP and Pakatan Harapan. They also threatened a return of race riots,” 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 on Tuesday, but Muhyiddin rejected the idea. The monarch then summoned the 30 lawmakers from the third largest bloc, the alliance led by the United Malays National Organization, to his palace on Wednesday.
The UMNO National Front has said it will not support either leader and will remain in opposition. In a meeting Tuesday night, officials said the alliance will 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 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 Malays fear losing 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.