Even if PN returns to power, Bersatu faces bleak GE15 – analysts

Only several days after it fell, the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government is said to potentially be back in power again, soon.

With Umno’s Ismail Sabri Yaakob among the main candidates to fill the prime minister position recently vacated by Bersatu’s Muhyiddin Yassin, it does not appear like there will be much change in terms of the coalition’s composition if the PN does return to power.

However, this also begs the question: Will the problems plaguing PN before this remain the same – specifically, the often tense relationship between Bersatu and Umno over the issue of positions in government?

Now that Bersatu is no longer as dominant as Umno, the far smaller and younger party will now be tested on its survival, whether it is avoiding being sidelined in the government – and on its chances in the next general election.

For Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) political analyst Jamaie Hamil, Bersatu is a party without a future in the 15th general election (GE15).

Even if the new Ismail Sabri-led PN government does not see infighting as intense as last time, Jamaie said, Umno and Bersatu will still sever all ties when it comes to the next general election so they can avoid seat negotiations between the two parties.

Bersatu is a splinter party of Umno and 15 of its seats were won under the Umno ticket in the previous general election, after which the Umno lawmakers switched their allegiance to Bersatu.

“Whether (a) Bersatu (politician) becomes the prime minister or the position is given to Umno, in the real election, Umno will probably sever ties with Bersatu and both of them will go their own way,” Jamaie told Malaysiakini yesterday.

“In GE15, Bersatu does not have a place. There will be some of its leaders who will win, but for most of the seats that Umno won – that the MPs later jumped to Bersatu – Umno will get those back.

“In the history of Umno, if they (the lawmakers) left Umno, they will no longer be popular. For example, Mohd Isa Abdul Samad. Who doesn’t know him? He was the Negeri Sembilan menteri besar for how many decades?

“But when he contested in the Port Dickson by-election, he lost massively,” Jamaie added, citing Isa’s big loss of 4,230 votes to PKR president Anwar Ibrahim’s 31,016 votes in the Port-Dickson by-election in 2018.

Even if the relationship between Umno and Bersatu can endure past GE15, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s Azmi Hassan said, compared to Umno, Bersatu is the one that got the brunt of the negative perception that PN failed in governing the country.

“The rakyat sees that PN 1.0 has failed to govern the country and this perception sticks more to Bersatu and PAS, compared to Umno,” he said, adding that Umno’s position as the more dominant party is to its benefit in any seat negotiations.

“That is why in GE15, it is not just Bersatu but also PAS that will be in an uncomfortable situation (compared to Umno),” Azmi said when contacted yesterday.

For the record, Bersatu and Umno joined forces in cooperation under PN to topple the Pakatan Harapan administration in February 2020. The PN coalition consists of Bersatu, PAS and Star, and at that time was supported by Umno-BN, PBS and several independent parliamentarians.

The PN government faced criticisms over its policies and its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it was blamed for the rise in the coronavirus cases.

When Muhyiddin was first sworn in as the prime minister on March 1, 2020, the cumulative Covid-19 cases in the country stood at 33, with 11 active cases.

Three days ago, when Muhyiddin resigned from his position, the cumulative cases reached 1,424,649, with 249,277 active cases.

Muhyiddin was forced to resign as prime minister after 15 Umno parliamentarians withdrew their support for him, reducing his numbers to 100 MPs – 11 short of a simple majority.

That was the climax of the disputes between Umno and Bersatu, which started surfacing regularly after PN took control of the government last year.

Even so, both Jamaie and Azmi believe that Bersatu has worked out a form of agreement to avoid repeating their old mistakes and disputes with Umno, at least for as long as they are working together in the government.

Azmi believes that not having an agreement was Umno’s mistake in PN’s first go at government. Umno, though it is larger than Bersatu, still faced problems in the Bersatu-led government.

“There is a big possibility that there wasn’t an agreement made about the policy directions of PN 1.0 (in that) when they are deciding on a policy, do they (Bersatu’s cabinet) have to refer to Umno first?

“And most importantly, there probably wasn’t an agreement made about cabinet appointments.

“But there is a high possibility that with this PN 2.0, there will be an agreement between Bersatu and Umno about those two things, that is cabinet appointments and the direction of the policies. (For example) every policy decided by the cabinet or the prime minister must be referred to Bersatu first.

“So there will be a difference between PN 1.0 and PN 2.0 because they have each learned from their mistakes in the past 17 months,” Azmi said.

For Jamaie, he foresees Bersatu taking a bolder move and coming up with a deal over the court cases involving several Umno MPs, as one of the conditions for them to support Ismail Sabri – who is an Umno vice-president – as prime minister.

“There is probably some sort of agreement, where even if Umno is in power with the post of prime minister in the new government, but the court cluster cannot be let go. Bersatu may take a brave stance like that,” he said, in line with Muhyiddin’s speech on the day he resigned.

When asked what would be reasonable for Bersatu to demand from Umno as the condition for their support, Jamaie said Bersatu should demand the home minister’s position if they are serious about rejecting the “kleptocrats” from Umno.

“As long as the home affairs minister (portfolio) is held by Bersatu, or maybe by Muhyiddin, I think the court cluster can be stopped,” he said.

If PN does successfully make a comeback, Azmi said, the most important thing the cooperating parties should do is to get rid of the stigma surrounding them with regard to cabinet appointments.

He said the prime minister should be given the freedom to form his cabinet based on each parliamentarian’s capabilities, instead of following party hierarchy or being subjected to suggestions from parties who want their candidates appointed to certain portfolios.

“Parliamentarians should be appointed to the cabinet based on their capabilities, not as a sign of appreciation for the support given to Ismail Sabri as prime minister.

“That was what happened in PN 1.0… so we saw several ministers who did not have the capabilities to lead their ministries. That was very obvious,” Azmi said.

Speaking of Umno’s future if Ismail Sabri becomes the prime minister, Jamaie predicts that the position of Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and his faction will be threatened, as Ismail Sabri may succeed Zahid as president in the next party leadership election.

Jamaie said he does not dismiss the possibility that Zahid and his faction may not even be nominated to contest in GE15.

So far, besides Ismail Sabri, another strong contender for the post of prime minister is said to be Anwar.

Parliamentarians from Umno and Bersatu have said they will support Ismail Sabri, whereas Pakatan Harapan and its allies have claimed Anwar already has the support of 105 MPs.

All MPs have been instructed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to submit their choice for the prime minister to the palace by 4pm yesterday.

The Agong has also said whoever is chosen will still have to test their majority in Parliament as soon as possible. MKINI

Ismail Sabri, lawmakers to see king tomorrow, Ahmad Maslan says

A TOTAL of 114 members of Parliament from Barisan Nasional, Perikatan Nasional, PAS, GPS and several independents has been summoned to Istana Negara tomorrow.

These lawmakers are those who have submitted statutory declarations in support of Ismail Sabri Yaakob to be the next prime minister.

Umno secretary-general Ahmad Maslan, who confirmed the matter, said MPs from Umno, Barisan Nasional, Bersatu, GPS and PAS have been summoned to Istana Negara between 10am to 4pm tomorrow.

They are being summoned in groups of 25 for the Agong to verify their support.

The Malaysian Insight reported earlier that 114 MPs have supported Ismail, who is also the Umno vice-president.

A total of 105 is said to have supported Pakatan Harapan chairman Anwar Ibrahim.

One MP’s vote is unknown.

Two seats in the 222 seat Dewan Rakyat are vacant following the death of their incumbents last year.

With the support of 114 lawmakers, Ismail has a simple majority to lead a new government.

His support is basically the same as those who backed Muhyiddin Yassin to become the prime minister in March last year.

However, the Bersatu chairman was forced to resign on Monday after losing his simple majority.

This happened after a group of 15 Umno lawmakers led by its president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi withdrew their support for Muhyiddin.

Twenty-three other Umno lawmakers, including Ismail, however continued to back Muhyiddin but that was not enough for the government to stand.

Now, however, the party lawmakers have united to support Ismail to become the nation’s ninth prime minister. TMI