KUALA LUMPUR: Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s (Bersatu) entry into the Muafakat Nasional (MN) coalition will likely render it a weak party under the shadow of the dominant United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), analysts said.
Bersatu, which is led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, announced on Saturday (Aug 15) that it would join MN, a political pact between UMNO and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) formed September last year.
This came about two weeks after UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said his party would not join Perikatan Nasional (PN) - the informal ruling pact currently controlling the federal government - if it registers as a formal coalition.
Bersatu is bound to be “swallowed up” by UMNO and PAS in MN, said Dr Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
“The party will over time just fizzle out. You see it joined Muafakat (Nasional) trying to find a position for itself but ultimately it could not because there is simply no such position for it.
“I think it is just a matter of time before it is swallowed up by UMNO and PAS and likely to follow the steps of Semangat 46 and eventually just rejoin UMNO,” he said referring to an offshoot party which was registered in 1989 as a challenge to then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and was later disbanded in 1996.
Bersatu, under the leadership of Dr Mahathir, was initially part of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, which had won the 14th general election in 2018 to form the federal government. This government collapsed earlier this year after Mr Muhyiddin led Bersatu out of PH.
The party had initially won 13 seats in the 14th general election but was boosted by defections of several Members of Parliament (MPs) from UMNO.
With the departure of Dr Mahathir and several MPs from Bersatu and the entry of about a dozen parliamentarians defected from Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Bersatu is believed to have about 30 seats in the parliament.
By comparison, UMNO has 39 MPs and PAS has 18.
With Bersatu joining MN, analysts believed that UMNO would remain the most dominant party in the coalition, followed by PAS.
Professor James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, said UMNO and PAS who are the original founders of MN would continue to bully Bersatu for as long as it stands in the coalition.
“If anything, joining Muafakat Nasional has only worsened the position of Bersatu overall especially in the next general election.
“It is however too early to determine what would ultimately happen to Bersatu. We will need to see how they divide the seats. If Bersatu ends up with a small number of seats, then it definitely will not have much to hang on to,” he said.
BERSATU IN THE NEXT GENERAL ELECTION
According to the MN charter signed in September last year, the alliance would promote the narrative of Islam and the Malay race without sidelining other races and cultures in the country.
The combination of UMNO, PAS and Bersatu would create a Melayu Raya (Greater Malay) coalition, PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan said on Sunday.
With the three parties targeting the same voter base, it is important for Bersatu to have an open discussion with the other two parties on its position and the division of seats in the next general election, said Associate Professor Jeniri Amir from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.
“If the senior members of the Muafakat Nasional coalition can compromise with seats, then it can not only enhance Bersatu but Muafakat Nasional.
“But the contentious issue is whether UMNO is willing to compromise the seats. Otherwise it is going to be problematic. Leaders and grassroots supporters will not be comfortable and there will be protests on the ground,” he said.
Dr Jeniri noted that UMNO and PAS are already strong on their own, so they would still win even without Bersatu on their side.
“If they (Bersatu) do not reach an understanding with UMNO, it is only going to weaken them further,” he said.
Prof Chin added that the problem PAS and UMNO would face in the next general election was that Bersatu currently controls the prime ministership.
“In Malaysia the PM is all powerful in terms of patronage. The right way of reading the scenario is to see how they divide seats for the next election,” he said.
MUHYIDDIN’S PRIME MINISTERSHIP
Currently, Mr Muhyiddin and his party are largely backed by UMNO and PAS in the PN government.
Analysts said it remained to be seen as to whether he would still hold the prime minister's post after the next general election due to happen by 2023.
Prof Chin said Mr Muhyiddin might command the majority now but it is unclear if he would command the same in the next general election. “UMNO could sabotage his position,” he said.
Mr Muhyiddin would have better prospects of political growth, Dr Oh said, if he returns to UMNO - which he was deputy prime minister until he was sacked for criticising Najib Razak’s handling of allegations surrounding state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd.
“Because if he does go back to UMNO, he might have quite a sizeable support. He actually had more room for political growth within UMNO.
“However, he will not stand a chance to continue as PM past the next general election, because UMNO would win big, and his only option would be to go back,” he posited.