A protester holds a sign that reads “Reject traitors” across an image of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Mohd Rasfan / AFP
Prominent opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim kicked off a day of warring words in a last-minute news conference in the capitol Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday with the bold claim that he had secured a “strong majority” in parliament to oust ruling Prime Minister Muyiddin Yassin.
“At this very moment, with the numbers I have, Muhyiddin is no longer prime minister,” Anwar said, adding that he welcomed Muhyiddin’s cooperation to ensure a smooth and peaceful power transition.
Anwar’s shocking claims quickly made it onto social media, fueling speculation about their veracity and riveting followers of the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian nation’s topsy-turvy politics, which have seen several administrations since a historic 2018 vote.
Speaking at a press conference to address pandemic control measures hours after Ibrahim’s claim, Muhyiddin hit back with a strong statement of his own.
“I plead with everyone to reject the recklessness of a handful of politicians who deliberately attempt to undermine political stability and the nation’s recovery plan,” he said, not mentioning Anwar by name.
He also reportedly said in a statement that is the “rightful prime minister”.
Muhyiddin took over after veteran politician Mahathir Mohammad, 95, resigned as prime minister in February, throwing the government into chaos.
The 73-year-old ardent Malay nationalist has been accused by rival politicians for “stealing power” and commands weak support from within his party, according to Malaysian political analyst Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
Speculations for early elections have been rife – with observers noting Muhyiddin’s consistent weak showing in parliament. But many political parties, and Malaysians in general, slammed Anwar’s shock announcement as the country continues its recovery in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
“The political elite contest continues to evolve in Malaysia, with power plays being made on different sides and the current PM acting like nothing is going on,” political Bridget Welsh, a research associate at the University of Nottingham’s Malaysia campus, told VICE News.
“Without clear evidence of the numbers or how a takeover will happen, this is a big gamble [for Anwar Ibrahim] with high stakes.”
Welsh also noted the political fatigue of many in the country. “Malaysians are rather exhausted and remain polarized in how they see such events.”