PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has defended his party’s decision to consider defectors from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) as members, adding that their applications will be scrutinised to see whether they fit in with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).
Mahathir said PPBM would only welcome those who were free from any wrongdoing or who were not ardent supporters of the former administration of Najib Razak.
"We are accepting only those leaders who are not implicated and who have not shown very strong support for Najib. Some of them were cursing Pakatan Harapan (PH) and calling me names, and all that," he said during an interview with selected media on Tuesday (Dec 18).
"Those people we cannot accept. It is not just freely coming into Bersatu. They have to be scrutinised to see whether they qualify or not."
The prime minister noted that in May's general election, quite a lot of Malays had supported UMNO as it was still popular in their eyes.
"Those Malays must be brought out because if those Malays support Bersatu, Bersatu will become strong and PH will become strong. So, that is our position," he said.
"They (UMNO members of parliament and leaders) can come in as members (of PPBM). They have a following."
UMNO has been in turmoil with several leaders, including its elected representatives, announcing that they were quitting the party to become independents. Several defectors have joined PH’s component parties.
On Tuesday, UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that his deputy Mohamad Hasan will be assuming his duties, in the wake of the crisis that has befallen the party.
Some in UMNO have called for former prime minister Najib to return to lead the party.
At a dialogue session with UMNO grassroots on Tuesday, Zahid claimed that his open attitude has been interpreted by some as a sign of weakness.
"I was the one who opened the contests for the post of president and deputy president despite the 2017 UMNO general assembly having decided that there would be no contests for the posts," he was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times.
The UMNO leader also fired off a warning to PPBM.
"I would like to warn PPBM to be careful with your new recruits. These guys want to take over, and will bring in their people to take over your party," Zahid said.
Mahathir, however, said during his interview that PPBM had imposed certain conditions for the UMNO lawmakers and leaders before they could join the party.
He said some of the defectors have pledged that they will not try to get any position within PPBM. They will also not run for posts in the future party election.
"Number one, you must leave UMNO and become independent for a short while. During that time, you must show you are supportive of (the) PH government and then you can apply," said Mahathir.
"Or you can apply earlier, but the applications will only be considered after we have observed their behaviour."
PPBM now has 16 seats in parliament. Parti Keadilan Rakyat and the Democratic Action Party have 50 and 42 seats respectively.