Divisions within Malaysia’s former ruling party, United Malays National Organisation (Umno), could threaten to destabilise the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition that has ruled since May, as opposition MPs join Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s party.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the party of Mahathir’s chosen successor, Anwar Ibrahim (pictured), is currently the largest in the coalition and could see its influence weaken within PH.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Umno president, said this week that he would resign his leadership to his deputy to prevent further defections.
Zahid is facing over 40 corruption charges involving more than US$24 million.
Around 17 of Umno’s 51 MPs have deserted the party since its surprise electoral defeat to Mahathir in May. Former Umno minister Mustapa Mohamed has joined Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), while others have become independents. The ongoing prosecution of former Umno prime minister Najib Razak has tarnished the party brand.
Mahathir said the Malays who still supported Umno must be won over to his ruling coalition.
“Those Malays must be brought out because if they support PPBM, PPBM will become strong and PH will become strong,” the 93-year-old said, according to Bernama.
“We are not taking leaders like two or three names that have been mentioned. Those leaders, no way they can come in.
“There are cases against them that they have to face in court. We are not accepting them.”
The prime minister said he was “very serious” about vetting Umno defectors. Mahathir abandoned Umno himself in 2016.
“If we reject them, we may be rejecting voters. They can bring some voters. It would strengthen PPBM and PH as well.
“I want a strong opposition but, as you can see, the opposition is totally shattered and everything is broken down.
“There is no opposition that is credible at the moment. Even when I was in the government before, when I was head of Barisan Nasional [from 1981-2003], I used to say we need an opposition because, without an opposition, it’s like having no mirror to look at yourself. You think you are beautiful but actually, you are very ugly.”
Wong Chin Huat, a political scholar at the Penang Institute, said PPBM’s alliance with Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat could be strained if more Umno MPs joined Mahathir.
“Deprived of the prospect of taking federal power, it is likely that opposition blocs would only compete from the flank, both threatening to tear Malaysia apart,” Wong warned.
Allegations of nepotism also circle Anwar after the recent resignation of Nurul Izzah from her party roles. She is Anwar’s eldest daughter and an MP in Anwar’s party and her mother, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, is deputy prime minister.
Prime minister in-waiting, Anwar Ibrahim (centre). Picture credit: Wikimedia