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Experts: Malaysia Will Continue Walking Tightrope Between US & China No Matter Who Becomes PM

© ARIF KARTONOVoters line up at a polling station during the general election in Permatang Pauh, Malaysia's Penang state, on November 19, 2022.
Voters line up at a polling station during the general election in Permatang Pauh, Malaysia's Penang state, on November 19, 2022. - Sputnik International, 1920, 23.11.2022
Malaysia's general elections ended in stalemate as the two major coalitions Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Perikatan Nasional (PN) are yet to secure the needed votes to form a new government following Saturday's vote. The gridlock has prompted Malaysian King Al-Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah to interfere.
"Is it hard to form a coalition government? On the surface, it does not seem to be difficult. It is just a mathematical numbering game. However, it has a huge impact on their support base," Dr. Lau Zhe Wei, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the International Islamic University of Malaysia, told Sputnik.
Pakatan Harapan (the Alliance of Hope) was formed in 2015 and ruled the country for 22 months after winning the 2018 Malaysian general election. The coalition, which is led by Anwar Ibrahim, consists of center-left and center-right parties.
Perikatan Nasional (the National Alliance) is a bloc embracing the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (BERSATU), Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), Homeland Solidarity Party (STAR), Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), and Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (GERAKAN). The coalition was founded in 2020 in the wake of the Malaysian political crisis which saw the fall of the ruling PH and the resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. PN is led by Muhyiddin Yassin, Anwar's major contender in the race for the country's prime ministership. Muhyiddin earlier served as Malaysia's prime minister between March 1, 2020, and August 16, 2021.
In the aftermath of the 2022 general elections, PH secured 81 seats with PN trailing on 73. However, neither coalition has gained the necessary 112 seats in the 222-seat parliament.

"For Anwar Ibrahim, this really is a question of the acceptability of Pakatan Harapan and his own chances of becoming the 10th Prime Minister of Malaysia," said Dr. Rahul Mishra, director of the Centre for ASEAN Regionalism and Coordinator of the European Studies program at the Asia-Europe Institute, University of Malaya. "For Muhyiddin Yassin and his coalition – Perikatan Nasional (PN) this election has been a great success. If he manages to secure the prime minister’s seat for himself, it would be an even bigger personal win for him."

Malaysian flag - Sputnik International, 1920, 22.11.2022
Malaysia's Ruling Coalition Reverts to Opposition After Refusing to Team Up for New Gov't
Meanwhile, Asian observers have drawn attention to a growing political division within the country manifested by the rise of the conservative Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and high popularity of the progressive Democratic Action Party (DAP). PAS, which is part of the PN coalition, managed to take 49 seats, while DAP, a PH component party, gained 40 seats.
The partisan struggle is set to grow further in the coming months, with the two coalitions about to cross horns in local elections, pointed out Dr. Lau Zhe Wei.

"Don’t forget, firstly, six more states elections are coming, three by PH-lead states and another three by PAS-lead states," the scholar said. "Even if we ignore state elections, unless the incoming federal government can use five years to convince their voters that their decision now is the correct one, otherwise, they are going to lose badly in GE16."

To evade further polarization, some Asian experts offered to form a unity government in Malaysia between PH and PN, admitting, however, that both sides would need to compromise on key issues, which may prove difficult.
The political impasse forced Malaysian King Al-Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah to step in on November 22 and announce that he would decide who would be the country's next prime minister, PH's Anwar Ibrahim or PN's Muhyiddin Yassin. It will be the third time the monarch has picked a premier over the past two years.
Whoever is chosen as the country's leader, Malaysia's foreign strategy is likely to remain intact, according to the observers.
A woman casts her ballot during the general election at a voting center in Alor Setar, Kedah, Malaysia Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. - Sputnik International, 1920, 20.11.2022
Malaysia Facing Hung Parliament in Absence of Clear Winner in General Elections

"Regardless of who forms the government, it won't change the foundation of Malaysian foreign policies," argued Dr. Lau Zhe Wei. "For example, Malaysia would not recognize Israel, Malaysia will remain impartial among superpowers and alike. The biggest difference between different governments will be on the narrow preference. For example, if PAS (the Islamic party) is in the government, they would love to strengthen Malaysia's tie with Muslim countries."

When it comes to relations with competing major powers, such as the US and China, Malaysia "maintains an unambiguously non-aligned approach," said Dr. Rahul Mishra.
Kuala Lumpur is eager to work with both Washington and Beijing and reap potential benefits from collaboration with each of the major power players. Thus, despite tensions over trade and investment and maritime relations complicating the China-Malaysia relationship, the two have deepened economic ties since 2018, some experts have noted. Meanwhile, the US is seeking to bolster cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, including Malaysia, in order to spread its influence in the Asia Pacific region.
"I don’t think a change in government would fundamentally alter Malaysia’s stand on what the US and China should and should not do in the region, particularly in relation to ASEAN," Dr. Mishra concluded.
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