Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu or PPBM) is a nationalist political party in the country formed on 8 September 2016 by former Umno members who were not pleased with the Umno leadership then. This later drove Bersatu to join hands with PKR, DAP and Amanah to form the Pakatan Harapan coalition to win the 14th general election in 2018.
Initially Pakatan could not be registered as a coalition when the country was under Barisan Nasional and this was perceived by critics as more of a political decision by the government then. Just before the 14th general election Bersatu’s status was also not recognised by ROS and this too was alleged to be a political decision. With Bersatu not being able to contest the election under its own symbol, also under the Pakatan symbol, the opposition then unanimously decided to use PKR’s symbol. It was appreciatively sanctioned by the then PKR president then, Dato’ Seri Dr Wan Azizah binti Wan Ismail.
After winning the general election with a simple majority the King firstly offered the PKR president to become the prime minister. She graciously turned down the offer and suggested that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad be given the post. In fact, she was quite indebted to Mahathir that with the Pakatan win her husband Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was released from prison and later given a royal pardon that made him able to return to his family and engage in active politics.
It seemed there was an affable agreement among the parties in Pakatan that Anwar would take over Mahathir as prime minister after two years or so. Anwar decided not to be in the cabinet in the Pakatan government and Wan Azizah was made the deputy prime minister.
Bersatu had contested 52 parliamentary seats but were only able to secure 13 in the 2018 general election. Despite that, the three other component parties had no objection to Mahathir leading the coalition as chairman. Bersatu then and the prime minister earned the respect from PKR, DAP and Amanah even when they occasionally went through some trivial misunderstandings within the coalition
Bersatu later managed to add 13 more seats to their stable when some Umno MPs crossed over to the party. Despite the crossovers, Bersatu did not win any by election held after the 14th general election. They lost in the Semenyih and Tg Piai by elections to Umno and Barisan. In fact Pakatan lost five general elections to Umno and Barisan after the 2018 general elections. Unfortunately, there were a few sensitive issues that did not favour the Pakatan government then.
With PKR split into two factions – Anwar’s and Azmin’s – 11 PKR MPs aligned to Azmin gave their support to Bersatu and they decided to leave Pakatan on 24th February 2020. In total, Bersatu and team now command a strength of 36 MPS, still less than Umno/BN’s 42.
The decision to pull Bersatu out of Pakatan was made by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yasin’s faction within the party citing “current political developments and the future of the country”, which can generally be surmised as for the sake of “Malay unity”. Also citing DAP as a reason for their departure. It was said that this move by Bersatu was not endorsed by the party chairman, Mahathir and his faction of the party.
Bersatu’s other faction’s stand was that with DAP in Pakatan they would not win Malay votes in elections, what more when Umno and PAS has formed an informal political understanding named Muafat Nasional.
The consequence of these splits, the Pakatan government collapsed and Mahathir decided to resign as prime minister. This led to Umno/BN, PAS and Bersatu forming the government when the King gave his blessings for Muhyiddin to become the prime minister. They are currently the minority governing alliance with at least 112 seats in the Dewan Rakyat consisting of MPs from BN, Bersatu, PAS and supported by GPS, GBS and an independent MP.
Was Bersatu misled?
To some political analysts, the luring of Bersatu into Perikatan Nasional was seen as a “honey trap” that many Bersatu leaders failed to sense much earlier. Bersatu leaders were misled and had mistakenly thought that teaming up with Umno and PAS would give them the edge in elections to win Malay votes. But to political pundits this thought was just an illusion.
As they say, it was calm before the storm. Little did they realise that Umno being a dominant party with 39 MPs in the new informal Perikatan coalition would demand for their share of important cabinet posts to further consolidate their position. Just after forming the new government Umno members started to vent their discontent over the choice of cabinet members by the prime minister who comes from Bersatu’s team.
Projecting Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali as a senior minister by the Muhyiddin government also became their point of contention. Some Umno MPs disagreed with this idea. There were also personal attacks on individuals named as cabinet members who they deemed as MPs “without principles” as they had hopped parties to meet their selfish ends. And some cabinet members were taunted to have a blemished background.
There were claims that names suggested by Umno president of those aligned to him to the prime minister was not adhered to by Muhyiddin’s team. The deputy president of Umno was not given a cabinet post. The Umno president himself was not appointed to any cabinet post. To the disgruntled among Umno members, the choice of Umno MPs in the cabinet is seen “as a tool to divide Umno”.
Seemingly, many Umno members have now decided to call for a snap election. They now claim that “there is limit to the cooperation with Bersatu that many did not understand” when they decided to come together to oust the Pakatan government and assert that their cooperation with Bersatu is only up till the 15th general election.
The 15th general election can be held any time before May 2023. It can be held if a vote of no confidence against the present government is passed in the parliament any time after parliament has resumed on May 18 this year. The prime minister inopportunely cannot accommodate to the many requests from Umno and a snap election would see Umno and PAS battle against Bersatu and Pakatan.
Bersatu in a way has lost the political plot. They now feel that they are being grassed by Umno and this has put the party in a dilemma. Being a small party it may not be able to survive on its own if there is going to be a snap election. In the present scenario they may lose almost all the seats they were to contest resulting in the demise of the party. The PKR crossovers into the new government too would most likely lose all their seats.
In hindsight, Bersatu could have made a gaffe by teaming up with Umno. Bersatu is now split into two factions. One faction led by Mahathir feels that they should not accept Umno en bloc but the other led by Muhyiddin has decided otherwise. Mahathir has won the post of Bersatu chairman uncontested and now, with the slogan “Selamatkan Bersatu”, is campaigning hard for Mukhriz Mahathir to contest against Muhyiddin for the Bersatu’s president’s post.
It seems like, only the faction allied to Tun may be able to revive Bersatu by taking the party out of the Perikatan coalition and possibly getting it back into Pakatan’s fold.
As for now, if Bersatu with their PKR crossovers were to remain with Perikatan, or decides to be on their own, the party will pass into oblivion comes the next general election.