KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin won out in negotiations on the candidate to lead a state on Monday after a narrow win for his ruling coalition in a weekend election that has done little to dispel doubts about his hold on power.
Muhyiddin’s coalition won Saturday’s election in Sabah state in what was widely seen as a referendum on his seven-month-old administration days after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim declared he had a “formidable” majority in parliament to oust the premier.
But the narrow win has done little to dispel the questions over Muhyiddin’s grip on power, especially amid signs of an increasingly tenuous alliance with former ruling party UMNO threatening his already razor-thin parliamentary majority.
The Saturday victory was almost immediately tested by coalition partner UMNO, which wanted its candidate appointed chief minister. The two sides eventually agreed on Hajiji Noor, from Muhyiddin’s Bersatu party, after two days of meetings.
At the federal level, UMNO said last week that some of its lawmakers now wanted to support Anwar as premier.
Anwar, in turn, has to convince King Al-Sultan Abdullah that he has the numbers to form a government.
The palace said in a statement on Monday the king would remain in hospital for observation after treatment to address sports injuries, and he would be discharged “in the near future”.
Before Saturday’s election, analysts said Muhyiddin needed a solid victory to stop support within his coalition parties melting away. But his coalition and allies won 38 of the 73 seats in the previously opposition-held state.
“The Sabah result, if anything has failed to provide any clarity or closure over Malaysia’s political impasse as the tug-of-war involving lawmakers’ support of both the ruling government as well as the opposition continue,” said Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, senior associate at political consultancy Vriens & Partners.
Muhyiddin rose to power in March after forming an alliance with opposition parties, including UMNO. Allies have pressured him to seek early polls to secure a strong mandate.
But cracks in his federal coalition began showing in July, when UMNO declared it was pulling some of its support for Muhyiddin after its former leader and ex-premier, Najib Razak, was sentenced to jail over the 1MDB scandal.
(Editing by Ed Davies, Robert Birsel)