THE Perikatan Nasional government is at risk of coming apart as the coalition’s largest bloc, Umno, is thinking of pulling out, said party sources, following Najib Razak’s guilty verdict on July 28.

The day after his predecessor was sentenced to 12 years in jail on various charges, Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi hinted that Umno was re-evaluating its ties with the PN partners.

Even if the party stays in the pact, Najib could still damage Prime Minister’s Muhyiddin Yassin’s government, said Umno sources.

Najib, who still wields influence in Umno, could persuade MPs loyal to him to withdraw support for Muhyiddin’s administration at the critical Dewan Rakyat budget sitting in November.

“That will be the death knell of the PN government and Muhyiddin. Without a budget you cannot operate,” said the official who requested anonymity.  

Another source said Zahid will convene a meeting with the party’s Supreme Council to discuss the fallout from the verdict and Umno’s future in PN.

Leaving the coalition, triggering snap polls in the process, is now an increasingly attractive option for some party members, the source, a northern state leader, said.

Should Umno go down this route, it will take with it its Barisan Nasional partners, MIC and MCA, and PAS, with whom Umno is conjoined in the pact Muafakat Nasional.  

“Bersatu will come in as an additional party only if the leaders can agree on the seat allocations. If that fails, Muafakat Nasional will just go on without Bersatu,” said the northern state leader.

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (waving) has hinted that the party is re-evaluating its future in Perikatan Nasional, following Monday’s guilty verdict for Najib Razak. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Afif Abd Halim, July 30, 2020.
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (waving) has hinted that the party is re-evaluating its future in Perikatan Nasional, following Monday’s guilty verdict for Najib Razak. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Afif Abd Halim, July 30, 2020.

Supreme Council members will also discuss the possibility of Najib striking out on his own with a handful of MPs and how the party will respond to that.

“If Najib does that, there is very little Umno can do about it. Knowing Najib, he is not going to take the sentence lying down.”

At last count, Muhyiddin has the support of 113 of the 222 MPs in the Dewan Rakyat while the opposition front known now as “Pakatan Harapan Plus” has 109.

Umno, which is in an uneasy alliance with Muhyiddin’s Bersatu, brings the most seats – 39 – to PN.

To pass laws such as the budget bill, the government needs a simple majority of 112 MPs.

Besides Najib, who still faces four more trials for crimes related to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), several Umno MPs have been charge in court with graft.

They are Putrajaya MP Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, Abdul Azeez Abdul Raheem (Baling) and Zahid.

Najib Razak looks to be in shock following the judge’s pronouncement of ‘guilty’, on July 27, 2020. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Hasnoor Hussain, July 30, 2020.
Najib Razak looks to be in shock following the judge’s pronouncement of ‘guilty’, on July 27, 2020. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Hasnoor Hussain, July 30, 2020.

Muhyiddin’s option

Despite Zahid’s ominous message, political analysts do not think the PN pact is on the ropes. 

For starters, a decision to leave the coalition will face opposition from those in Umno who don’t want the party to act rashly, said Dr Tunku Mohar Tunku Mokhtar of the International Islamic University (IIUM).

There are also Umno leaders who feel that the party must reform and be rid of scandal-tainted leaders such as Najib, who had caused the party’s downfall in the 2018 general election.

“As it is, I think Umno is quite fragmented. However, if Zahid is going to also suffer the same fate as Najib, the party may be heading either towards power struggle that can weaken it, or be united under a leader who does not have any relation to the two.”  

Another political scientist, Dr Wong Chin Huat said although Najib could deny votes to the budget bill, Muhyiddin still has the option of reaching out to Pakatan Plus.

“While Najib and the gang can skip parliament in the budget process to cause a narrow defeat on Muhyiddin’s side, Muhyiddin can reach out to the opposition for a confidence and supply agreement,” said Wong of the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia.  

“It can be legitimate for the opposition if they can secure substantial reforms from Muhyiddin. If that happens, Malaysia may see resumption of some reform forced by political expedience”.

The prospect of Pakatan lending some support for a Perikatan budget bill in exchange for promised reforms is strong given that Muhyiddin and Bersatu realise that a snap polls does not benefit them.

“A snap election does not serve Muhyiddin’s best interests as Umno and PAS will cut down the number of seats for Bersatu to contest and shorten Muhyiddin’s tenure.

“If he is able to survive every budget from 2020 to 2022, he can be PM until the parliament is dissolved in July 2023. Why should he rush to cut short his time?” – THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT

Bersatu expected to join Muafakat Nasional

Bersatu is expected to join the Muafakat Nasional pact amidst apprehension among Umno’s grassroots over the conviction against Najib Abdul Razak on seven charges of corruption.

According to several sources, the decision was arrived at during a meeting yesterday between Umno and PAS MPs with Bersatu president and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in Parliament.

“The meeting with the PM (yesterday) afternoon was (for us) to determine his position on (Bersatu’s) cooperation with BN and Umno.

“The PM had given his commitment to work together with BN and Umno, especially in facing the 15th general election (GE15).

“Muhyiddin also stated that Bersatu would join Muafakat to smoothen GE15 preparations, including seat allocations,” claimed a source.

On Tuesday, the Kuala Lumpur High Court handed Najib a RM210 million fine and jail sentence totalling 72 years, of which only 12 needs to be served because the sentences were to run concurrently.

Najib – a former Umno president and former prime minister – was convicted for abuse of power, money laundering and criminal breach of trust for pocketing RM42 million which originated from state-owned SRC International, a subsidiary of sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Immediately after the verdict was delivered, Najib’s supporters who had gathered outside court demanded that Parliament be dissolved and that Umno withdrew support for PN.

Umno’s withdrawal unlikely

Virtually all Umno’s top leaders have not publicly expressed similar sentiments, but Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi promised that his party would make a “political decision” in response to the ruling.

This has sparked speculation that Umno was mulling pulling out from PN before more court verdicts are delivered against Umno leaders currently on trial, which include Zahid.

When contacted, Zahid dismissed suggestions that Umno was leaving PN.

He said the meeting yesterday resolved to “strengthen” Muafakat Nasional, and reiterated that Umno will remain in PN.

Muafakat Nasional was formalised in September 2019, primarily for the two traditional rivals, Umno and PAS, to devise strategies against Pakatan Harapan following their GE14 defeat.

When asked if Bersatu would be merging with Umno, Zahid replied in the negative.

Instead, Muafakat will be making an announcement on the deal yesterday.

“Muafakat leaders will make an announcement when the time is right,” said Zahid. – MKINI