After three stints in prison and more than two decades of waiting, Anwar Ibrahim has had enough. Long the leader of a multiracial opposition party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (pkr), he declared on September 23rd that a “strong, formidable, convincing majority” of lawmakers wanted him to form a government. “The claim must be proven through the process and methods determined by the Federal Constitution,” retorted Muhyiddin Yassin, the incumbent prime minister. “Until proven otherwise…I am the legitimate prime minister.” The matter can only be settled by Malaysia’s king, to whom Mr Anwar promises to reveal his list of supporters. But the country remains in limbo, since the monarch says he is too unwell to receive visitors at the moment.
Mr Anwar came close to power in 2018 when a coalition of opposition parties including pkr defeated the ruling party of six decades, the United Malays National Organisation (umno), in a landmark election. But the job of prime minister went to Mahathir Mohamad, the leader of a smaller party in the coalition, Bersatu, on the understanding he would soon pass the baton to Mr Anwar. (The pair, who both used to belong to umno, had been in that situation before: when Dr Mahathir was prime minister in the 1990s, Mr Anwar had been his heir presumptive until they fell out and Mr Anwar wound up in prison.)
In the end the tension between the two men, and in particular the question of when Dr Mahathir would relinquish power, undermined the coalition. In February most of Bersatu and a faction within pkr jumped ship, siding with umno and an Islamic party, pas, to form a new government with Mr Muhyiddin of Bersatu at its head. To soothe disgruntled mps, Mr Muhyiddin was unusually generous about handing out ministerial posts and positions at government-linked firms.