Malaysia youth party leaves ruling coalition over corruption concerns

ASEAN Summit in Jakarta

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA) announced on Sunday it was leaving Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's ruling coalition, citing corruption concerns after graft charges were dropped against the country's deputy premier.

The youth-centric MUDA has just one elected lawmaker and its move to quit will not affect the government alliance's stability, but could deny Anwar a two-thirds majority in parliament - a necessity for passing constitutional amendments and other key reforms.

MUDA's move comes after prosecutors last week dropped dozens of charges against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi – the head of the graft-tainted United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) party, whose support Anwar needs to maintain a parliamentary majority.

Anwar has maintained that the move to drop the case, which triggered a widespread public backlash, was made without his interference.

MUDA said dropping the case had raised many questions and was against the government's commitment to fight graft and uphold the rule of law.

"As a result of the decision, MUDA believes the legal institutions of the country have been tainted and it is as if the government is normalising the culture of corruption," the party said in a statement Sunday.

MUDA said it would join the opposition as a third force, but would continue to support the government if it needs a two-thirds majority vote to carry out institutional reforms.

The prime minister's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Anwar took office after a divisive general election in November last year, partnering with one-time rival UMNO to break a hung parliament and form a government.

UMNO was voted out for power for the first time in Malaysia's history in 2018 due to widespread anger over corruption allegations against Ahmad Zahid and former premier Najib Razak. Both have consistently denied wrongdoing.

Najib is now serving a 12-year prison sentence for graft linked to the multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB and faces more bribery charges.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Sharon Singleton)