KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s ruling party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) will join the Muafakat Nasional (MN) alliance with the country’s two biggest Malay Muslim parties, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Saturday (Aug 15).
Addressing party members, Bersatu president Muhyiddin said that the party’s entry into the coalition is expected to be finalised soon. MN was formed by Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) in 2018.
“I believe this is the best option for Bersatu,” Tan Sri Muhyiddin said, as his four-year-old party begins to hold its first ever internal elections since its inception over the next week.
The announcement comes at a time when Bersatu has been rocked by members quitting the party to join the newly formed Malay party of former premier Mahathir Mohamad – Parti Pejuang Tanah Air.
Tun Dr Mahathir, 95, founded Bersatu together with Mr Muhyiddin in 2016, but the two of them had split following Dr Mahathir’s resignation as prime minister in late February, which caused the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition government.
Mr Muhyiddin subsequently led Bersatu’s exit from PH to establish a Perikatan Nasional (PN) government together with Umno, PAS and other parties, gaining a slim single-digit majority in Parliament.
Dr Mahathir, who had disagreed with the move to switch camps, was subsequently removed from Bersatu along with five other lawmakers aligned to him.
“We believe, by being in a coalition with Umno and PAS, and other parties in a grand coalition, the majority of the people’s support will be with us,” Mr Muhyiddin said on Saturday.
“This will pave the way to political stability for the country,” he added.
The decision also comes just weeks after Umno said that it would not be formally joining PN, instead choosing to prioritise strengthening Muafakat Nasional.
Bersatu’s move will likely give Umno an upper hand with regard to future seat negotiations as the possibility of a snap election by the end of the year or early next year looms.
While Bersatu leads the PN government, Umno remains the biggest party – by membership and also in terms of parliamentary representation – in Muafakat Nasional.
PN, which last week applied to be registered as a formal entity sans Umno, is currently chaired by Mr Muhyiddin.
MN remains an alliance without a formal registration, with a memorandum of understanding binding Umno and PAS together so far.
Mr Muhyiddin is unlikely to chair MN as well, an analyst said, putting him and his party at a disadvantage in seat negotiations.
“Muhyiddin and his party essentially have no other political exit, as they are being marginalised by Umno and not yet welcomed back by Pakatan,” said Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
Dr Oh told The Straits Times that the only option left for Mr Muhyiddin is to join the alliance with the hopes of retaining the seats that the party currently holds. Bersatu currently has 32 MPs in Parliament, but more than half of its number were secured via defections after the 2018 elections, mostly from Umno. The party won only 13 parliamentary seats during the 2018 elections.
Bersatu also purged 282 party members earlier on Saturday in its attempt to remove those who are aligned to Dr Mahathir. With the purge, Mr Muhyiddin is now the only founding member to remain with Bersatu.
Public policy consulting firm BowerGroup Asia’s director Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani said that joining MN was necessary for Mr Muhyiddin’s party, as Dr Mahathir’s newly formed Pejuang is chipping away at Bersatu’s support base.
“With its popularity waning, Bersatu can no longer demand a huge number of seat allocations. In order for Bersatu to survive in the general election, the party must work with Umno and PAS,” Mr Asrul Hadi told ST.
He said Mr Muhyiddin’s position is largely dependent on the Islamist party PAS – a party that appears to back Mr Muhyiddin more favourably than Umno does, and has agreed to join the Perikatan Nasional coalition he leads.