KUALA LUMPUR: Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) is expanding its wings to the eastern state of Sabah, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Friday (Feb 15), in a move that will not sit well with the local Warisan party.
This comes on the back of an increase in the number of federal parliamentary seats held by Bersatu, after it accepted seven defectors from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) earlier in the week.
Dr Mahathir, who is Bersatu chairman, said having a Sabah chapter of the party would allow former Sabah UMNO members to join Bersatu.
“A problem arose when the UMNO leaders quit their party and Sabah UMNO was dissolved. They did not wish to join Warisan and wanted to join Bersatu,” Dr Mahathir said after chairing a meeting of the Bersatu supreme council.
READ: Pakatan Harapan politicians, supporters up in arms over Bersatu’s move to accept UMNO defectors
Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) is the leading local party in Sabah. It is aligned to but not officially a component party of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.
Dr Mahathir’s announcement confirms speculation in recent weeks that his party would set up a presence in the eastern Malaysian state, despite calls from Warisan not to do so.
According to a report by The Star on Sunday, Sabah Chief Minister Mohd Shafie Apdal said he had met Dr Mahathir to reiterate his stand on not wanting the peninsula-based Bersatu in Sabah.
"I met and told him that the best thing is to uphold the promise made before GE14 and what has been discussed before," Mr Shafie said as quoted by The Star.
“Warisan in Sabah is a multi-racial party and we take care of all races here, whereas Bersatu is a single-race party.”
Mr Shafie was among those who played a leading role in PH's stunning electoral victory in May 2018.
The Warisan-led state government currently holds two-thirds of the state seats in Sabah.
BERSATU IN SABAH TO STRENGTHEN WARISAN STATE GOVERNMENT: MAHATHIR
On Friday, Dr Mahathir said Bersatu’s decision to expand to Sabah was not to challenge or oppose Warisan.
"We are going to Sabah to strengthen Shafie’s government, we are not opposing Warisan," he said.
"We made the decision after studying the situation in Sabah where they (former UMNO members) did not want to join Warisan but wanted to join Bersatu,” he said, adding that the decision did not require the agreement of the other PH component parties.
UMNO is in turmoil, with senior figures leaving the party.
On Dec 12, more than a dozen Sabah UMNO lawmakers and state assemblymen quit and pledged their support to the PH government. Two days later, six UMNO lawmakers in the peninsula followed suit.
Some UMNO politicians have expressed a desire to join PPBM.
Bersatu now has 22 seats in the federal parliament. Parti Keadilan Rakyat and the Democratic Action Party have 50 and 42 seats respectively.
At the moment, there are six former Sabah UMNO lawmakers who are officially independent.
If they are accepted into Bersatu, it would leave PH and Warisan within eight seats of securing a two-thirds majority in the federal Parliament, allowing them to revise the constitution.
On Friday, Dr Mahathir reiterated that those who want to join Bersatu will be subject to tight screening.
“The three conditions we have set are that they must quit UMNO, become independent elected representatives for some time and they will have to undergo a tight selection process, individually and not as a group,” he said.
Dr Mahathir said the person to head Bersatu Sabah will be decided later.