Commentary: UMNO’s break with Bersatu could come at a high price for Malaysia

HOBART: Last Sunday (Mar 28), UMNO did what was extensively anticipated however thought inconceivable at its annual social gathering meeting.

It handed a decision calling on UMNO to face the following basic election (GE) alone.

In apply, this implies cutting ties with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), its accomplice within the Perikatan Nasional (PN) authorities.

It was a enormous victory for Zahid Hamidi, UMNO’s president and Najib Razak, the previous president, who had been the principle agitators behind UMNO’s exit.

Without these numbers to kind a parliamentary majority, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin would don’t have any selection however to name for an early GE.

To say that is awkward for Muhyiddin is an understatement. He tried onerous to get his UMNO allies within the social gathering to cease the decision however to no avail.

The groundswell in UMNO was towards Bersatu, partially as a result of many UMNO members imagine Bersatu is plotting to exchange UMNO because the dominant Malay social gathering in Malaysia.

UMNO leaders are additionally extraordinarily indignant Bersatu has sidelined them in authorities posts and authorities contracts. Despite being the most important social gathering with the most important numbers of elected MPs in March 2020, UMNO solely had 9 Cabinet positions and few of the plum posts.

READ: Commentary: UMNO’s fear that Bersatu could destroy it does have some basis


Muhyiddin’s gameplan to separate UMNO has failed. His champion, Minister of Federal Territories Annuar Musa, who argued that UMNO ought to work with Bersatu, has been fully sidelined.

Annuar was labelled a “pest” and worse when Zahid challenged him on Sunday to place his cash the place his mouth is. Referring to Annuar, Zahid spoke of a minister who has “stabbed UMNO in the back” and stated, “if he’s a man, he should resign as minister”.

Another critique, UMNO Putrajaya division deputy chief Tun Faisal Ismail, noticed his membership suspended for six years for criticising Zahid brazenly, an unusually lengthy interval.

If something, the overall meeting has strengthened Zahid’s and Najib’s fingers, who at the moment are calling the photographs. If Muhyiddin needs to remain in energy, he can’t bypass them anymore.

Malaysia's opposition leader Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (L) was a close ally of Najib Razak (R), who

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was a shut ally of Najib Razak, who suffered a shock election defeat in 2018 over allegations he oversaw the plundering of billions of {dollars} from a state fund (Photo: AFP/MOHD RASFAN)

They have undermined UMNO factions sympathetic to Muhyiddin. By consolidating internally, UMNO can now make extra aggressive calls for of Bersatu and there’s one each leaders might take into consideration. Zahid and Najib have been agitating for Muhyiddin to make use of his affect to cease these corruption trials towards UMNO leaders.

UMNO’s basic meeting comes proper after the High Court listening to of Zahid’s corruption prices offered by the prosecution. Zahid’s defence claimed the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s case was politically motivated. His case will see resumption of oral and written submissions in June.

Najib’s can also be pending an enchantment, as is one other senior UMNO member, Tengku Adnan Mansor’s graft case.

READ: Commentary: UMNO president Zahid Hamidi’s many headaches

READ: Commentary: This is not the end of Najib Razak


Zahid is aware of the timing to take the struggle to Muhyiddin is true. The UMNO grassroots are all fired up and spoiling for a struggle with Bersatu.

It isn’t any accident UMNO’s Johor chief minister Hasni Mohammad, throughout his speech at the UMNO meeting, stated Muhyiddin himself will lose if he contests the Pagoh parliamentary seat within the subsequent GE.

“I was informed (by UMNO’s Pagoh division) support for Perikatan Nasional in Pagoh is only 19.8 per cent,” he added.

UMNO nonetheless has a formidable election equipment within the rural areas and may simply beat Bersatu’s election equipment within the Malay areas.

READ: Commentary: Johor city dwellers hit hard by MCO but rural communities fare worse


The unintended consequence of UMNO’s break with Bersatu is the leverage different events within the coalition have gained. It has positioned PAS, with 18 parliamentary seats, in a highly effective place. PAS could play kingmaker however it’s prone to do nothing.

UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and PAS President Hadi Awang hold hands during Ummah Unity Gather

United Malays National Organization (UMNO) President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (L) and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) President Hadi Awang maintain fingers throughout Ummah Unity Gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, September 14, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng)

PAS has all the time dreamt of getting energy within the federal authorities in order that it could actually push for extra conservative Islamic legal guidelines. With inaction on the UMNO-Bersatu fallout, each are prone to accede to PAS’ calls for as they attempt to courtroom its help.

Another potential winner within the saga is Gabugan Parti Sarawak (GPS), PN’s Sarawak ally, which additionally has 18 seats. Although not a part of PN, they’ve pledged 18 MPs to help Muhyiddin. They have publicly declared this help is tied to Muhyiddin and to not PN.

And with Muhyiddin weakened by UMNO’s deliberate departure, GPS can extract concessions from the prime minister. After all, the Sarawak state election is simply months away and GPS wants all of the assets it could actually get to win huge.

READ: Commentary: UMNO’s in no shape to play kingmaker in Malaysia


While the press targeting UMNO’s impeding PN exit and the implications for social gathering politics, a much more essential announcement with bigger ramifications for Malaysia’s political future from Zahid was misplaced within the large media blitz.

Zahid promised that if UMNO wins a two-third majority within the subsequent GE, UMNO will alter the Malaysian Constitution to “empower” Shariah regulation. While he didn’t present particulars, his promise to raise the powers of the Shariah Court could imply civil courts can now not problem key judgments of the Shariah Court.

If such efforts are pursued, the implications are huge for a multi-religious nation like Malaysia. It is unclear whether or not this could vest the Shariah Courts with powers over points impacting non-Muslims, and whether or not non-Muslims can search a judicial overview.

PAS mass rally 3

Thousands rallied in Kuala Lumpur in 2017 help of a invoice that can strengthen the powers of the Shariah Court. (Photo: Asif Ishak)

One such thorny space is little one custody after one partner converts to Islam after which converts the kids, leaving the non-Muslim partner in an inconceivable place.

In virtually all circumstances, the Shariah Court have dominated that the kid have to be raised as a Muslim and the transformed partner ought to subsequently have custody.

A 2009 case the place the Shariah courtroom initially gave custody of three secretly transformed youngsters to their Muslim father, Okay Pathmanathan, spooked fears. The non-Muslim partner could have few authorized recourse if civil courts would not have jurisdiction, since non-Muslims and non-Muslim legal professionals are barred from showing in a Shariah Court.

By taking such a hardline stand, UMNO is signalling that it has determined to courtroom conservative Muslim votes aggressively, doubtlessly pushing PAS and Bersatu additional to the correct in the event that they need to compete to symbolize the Malay-Muslim heartland. And all this with out PAS nudging UMNO to take action.

This is a harmful, polarising transfer that could galvanise non-Muslim voters behind the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). Many non-Muslim bumiputera in East Malaysia are involved whether or not this populist try could result in a slippery slope that steadily imposes Islam on the nation.

READ: Commentary: Why Anwar Ibrahim’s longheld dream of becoming Malaysia PM keeps getting thwarted


But whereas the impact of this weekend’s basic meeting is to sound the conflict drums and set UMNO on the trail towards Bersatu, you’ll not see UMNO ministers resigning en masse this week.

Rather, the meeting has left the timing of that transfer to Zahid, who has already stated the earliest will likely be after the State of Emergency is lifted, i.e. Aug 1.

Still, UMNO’s PN withdrawal shouldn’t be ultimate. The social gathering made it clear Zahid would be the man to resolve if and when to tug the ultimate set off.

READ: Commentary: A convenient state of emergency amid challenging times in Malaysia

This means we must always not rule out Zahid delaying the exodus and negotiating a truce with Muhyiddin to maintain the federal government intact till the tip of its mandate in 2023.

Muhyiddin’s different possibility is to create a new alliance to exchange UMNO. The solely different events with sufficient MPs to exchange UMNO are PKR or DAP. Both decisions are extraordinarily unpopular with bizarre Bersatu members.

Muhyiddin might even make peace with his nemesis, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has 4 MPs, after Pejuang failed to register as a political social gathering.

Since the interior coup in February 2020 which led to the formation of the PN administration, the nation has been stricken by political instability.

The highway forward solely seems to be rockier.

Listen to Malaysians coping with a new wave of COVID-19 share their very totally different experiences of residing by way of the pandemic in Johor, Kuala Lumpur and Sabah:


Professor James Chin is Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania and Senior Fellow at the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button