Is Perikatan Nasional breaking up?

The Perikatan Nasional (PN) appears doomed – even before it becomes a formal, registered coalition. This will not come as a surprise to many, given the fact that it was hastily stitched together by a group of leaders who saw an opportunity to take power without seeking a mandate from voters.

The strongest indication of PN’s vulnerability came on July 30 when Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi snubbed Muhyiddin Yassin by saying his party would not enter into a formal pact with the latter’s PPBM.

However, Zahid said Umno would continue to back the federal government headed by Muhyiddin and would continue to be part of his government.

“We feel that Muafakat Nasional (MN) is the best platform for PAS, Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) parties to face whatever possibilities in the near future,” Zahid added.

This is a major blow to Muhyiddin, for Umno, with 39 MPs, is the largest bloc propping up his government.

Why this decision? Some say it is Umno’s way of showing displeasure at the outcome of the corruption trial of Najib Razak, its former president.

Former prime minister Najib was sentenced to 12 years in jail and fined RM210 million by the High Court after he was found guilty of all seven charges involving abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering linked to the SRC International scandal.

It is certainly a message to Muhyiddin, coming as it does two days after Najib’s conviction – especially since Zahid himself is facing a slew of corruption, CBT and money laundering charges.

PN has yet to be registered but the process has already started. A source told Singapore’s The Straits Times that Muhyiddin would go ahead with PN despite Umno’s stand. The source also said PN had been registered and to wait for the announcement.

If indeed PN had been registered, one would have thought that Muhyiddin would have rushed to announce it so as to show the people PN was stable, but that hasn’t happened.

While Umno said it would not join PN but would cooperate at government level, PAS president Hadi Awang said his party would continue to cooperate with PPBM at both party and government levels.

Meanwhile, PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan said MN did not hold any discussion prior to Zahid’s announcement that Umno would not join PN. “We are unsure in relation to the matter. We need to discuss the matter,” he said, indicating it came as a surprise to PAS. However, Umno Youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki said Umno had twice stated at the MN main committee meeting that it would not formally join PN. What does that say about Umno-PAS understanding?

It’s interesting that MN has, in turn, invited PPBM to join it. In fact, Zahid was reported as saying, in stressing that Umno would not become a PN component party, that Muhyiddin had expressed interest in joining MN.

PPBM secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin said the party’s Supreme Leadership Council was debating the matter and a decision would be made soon. He said PPBM was reviewing several matters, including the structure of the MN main committee and “how the three parties can chart MN”.

For Zahid, the maths is simple: If Umno joins PN, he would be acknowledging Muhyiddin’s authority or PPBM’s status as leader; if PPBM joins MN, it will indicate PPBM is willing to accept the leadership of Umno. It’s a game; a power play.

By not being part of PN, Umno can negotiate better terms in the run-up to the next general election: how many seats it will contest and whose party will nominate the next prime minister.

Also, PPBM may or may not exist after the next general election whereas Umno and PAS, with their vast networks and spread-out roots, will be around for a long time in Malay and Malaysian politics.

If PPBM joins MN led by Umno, the Umno president will have more power to call the shots at the next general election. This power will be crucial when it comes to apportioning seats to be contested as in the previous general election, PPBM contested almost all the seats that Umno considers its traditional seats.

Perhaps Zahid is also trying to force Muhyiddin’s hands, to add to the pressure so that Muhyiddin calls for snap elections. Reports indicate that Umno and PAS are confident of winning more seats and forming the government in the next general election. Political analysts think so too, according to media reports.

A glimpse of what’s likely to happen at the 15th general election is currently on show in Sabah, where the state assembly has been dissolved.

Even before the dates for an election have been set, Umno and PPBM are quarrelling over seats.

Sabah PPBM chief Hajiji Mohd Noor, an Umno man who crossed over to PPBM, said his party would contest in 45 of the 73 state seats. No sooner had he said this than Sabah Umno information chief Shahril Hamdan charged in to say: “Two words – don’t dream. My suggestion to Sabah Bersatu (PPBM) is that if they want to be friends with Umno, let’s do it on friendly terms. We can discuss. We can negotiate.”

Umno vice-president Mohamed Khaled Nordin was more blunt: “He (Hajiji) has his party, we have ours. Bersatu exists in Sabah only because of a group of traitors. Umno will continue to receive the support of the grassroots.”

Sabah Umno chairman Bung Moktar Radin said Umno intended to defend all 32 state seats it had previously contested and some of the 13 new seats created in July 2019 when Parliament approved a bill to increase the state constituencies from 60 to 73.

Then again, squabbles over seats among coalition partners are not new. Warisan, the DAP and PKR will face trouble in the Sabah elections too.

At the federal level, PN is hanging on to power by the slimmest of majorities; it won the move to replace the speaker of the Dewan Rakyat by a mere two votes. And it is telling that when Umno talks about giving Muhyiddin’s government support, it almost always ends with “until the 15th general election”.

All it needs is for some MPs from Umno or its Sarawak partner GPS to quit for PN to collapse, which means Muhyiddin will be desperately trying to maintain support for his shaky government. There are many ways a prime minister can do this

So, is PN breaking apart? Will it be a short-lived coalition? The writing is on the wall.

 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.