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Malaysian politics in turmoil amid new coalition talk

[KUALA LUMPUR] The fate of Malaysia's ruling coalition hung in doubt on Monday, after surprise weekend talks between Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's party and other groups on forming a new government that would exclude his anointed successor Anwar Ibrahim.

The tussle between old rivals Mahathir, 94, and Anwar, 72, has shaped Malaysian politics for decades and tension has persisted, despite their alliance to win 2018 elections based on a promise that Mr Mahathir would one day cede power to Mr Anwar.

On Sunday, Mr Anwar accused Mr Mahathir's party and "traitors" in his own party of plotting to form a new government with the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), the former ruling party ousted in 2018 amid widespread corruption accusations.

Sources said Mr Mahathir's party and a faction within Mr Anwar's party met officials from Umno and the Islamist party PAS in efforts to form a new coalition.

Malaysian stocks fell more than two per cent when markets opened on Monday because of the political uncertainty.

Mr Mahathir's party, Umno and PAS met with the king, media said, though it was not clear what they discussed, and whether the new proposed coalition would secure backing from the king, who plays a largely ceremonial role in Malaysia.

The king can dissolve parliament on the advice of the prime minister and his assent is required for the appointment of a prime minister or senior officials.

But it is unclear what his role would be if the ruling coalition changed without a change in prime minister.

Mr Anwar was also due to meet the king at 0630 GMT on Monday, his spokesman said, but gave no details of what he would seek.

Mr Anwar and Mr Mahathir united ahead of the 2018 election to drive out the Umno-dominated Barisan Nasional coalition that had ruled the South-east Asian country for six decades in a surprise victory.

But tension between the two in their Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition had been growing, as Mr Mahathir resisted setting a specific timetable for keeping his promise to hand power to Mr Anwar.

The coalition's political fortunes have been waning with defeat in five recent by-elections.

Mr Anwar was Mr Mahathir's deputy when the latter was prime minister during his first stint from 1981 to 2003. But Mr Mahathir sacked him in 1998, after they disagreed over how to handle the financial crisis.

Soon after Mr Anwar was jailed for sodomy, charges he says were trumped up.

REUTERS