Analysts: Umno’s Perikatan ‘snub’ more to do with strengthening party, Muafakat’s position ahead of GE15 seat negotiations than Najib’s SRC conviction

Experts say that Umno’s decision not to formally join Perikatan Nasional can be seen as possible retaliation against recent developments under the leadership of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Experts say that Umno’s decision not to formally join Perikatan Nasional can be seen as possible retaliation against recent developments under the leadership of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 1 — Umno’s sensational decision not to formally join Perikatan Nasional (PN), despite being part of the same government, can be seen as possible retaliation against recent developments under the leadership of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, experts have said.

The announcement that came a mere two days after former party head Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s guilty verdict and conviction also suggested that Umno’s refusal to commit to a long-term partnership with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) could have stemmed from a loss of faith among its leaders who may have held onto the belief that being on the same side as Muhyiddin could save them from prosecution in court.

“Many Umno leaders were of the opinion that when they joined PN, it meant they were saved from action by the courts; however, this has not been the case.

“This matter (snubbing PN) was caused by the dissatisfaction of the Umno leadership and Umno grassroots with the court’s decision against Najib under PN as led by Muhyiddin Yassin,” pointed out Universiti Malaya Associate Prof Madya Awang Azman Awang Pawi to Malay Mail.

At the same time, analysts also said they believe the snub also represented a warning shot and the first step by Umno to distance itself from Muhyiddin’s Bersatu, a move likely aimed at fortifying the influence of Muafakat Nasional (MN) and Barisan Nasional (BN) against the prime minister’s party when negotiations for election seats heat up.

Double-edged sword

Although Najib’s conviction would have surely improved the perception of integrity of Muhyiddin’s leadership, and by association his party, bailing from its previous alliance with Pakatan Harapan (PH) to being part of PN puts Bersatu in a tight spot in the game of political narratives, attracting both admirers and naysayers.

Awang Azman said this has caused Muhyiddin and Bersatu to find themselves in a situation more tenuous than when PN was first formed, even going so far as to suggest Parliament could be dissolved if a split vote were to occur should Umno leaders choose to be absent from the process.

He said that a possible outcome from its snub of PN could even see Umno ditch Bersatu entirely, leaving Muhyiddin’s party with little room to manoeuvre or the ability to remain competitive in the event of a general election.

Awang Azman said this was still a likely eventuality despite Umno President Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s revelation that Bersatu has expressed its intentions to join MN.

“What is for sure is that Umno and PAS will delay (including Bersatu in MN) up to the point when Parliament is dissolved, because Umno and PAS do not want to share (seats) with Bersatu.

“In this context, Bersatu will be alone if MN decides to go ahead without them and not be part of PN. It will be difficult for MN to receive Bersatu.

“This is the current issue because MN does not want to share its seats; MN will delay until the next elections to stall Bersatu from joining MN,” he suggested.

But for senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Oh Ei Sun, Umno and MN completely ditching Bersatu might seem like a possible outcome, but felt it would be unlikely to occur in the near future.

Umno’s decision not to be a component party of PN was announced by Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Thursday. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Umno’s decision not to be a component party of PN was announced by Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Thursday. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

“Would Umno go ahead and completely break off from PN, meaning its MPs no longer support Muhyiddin? I don’t think so, because that would lead to the collapse of the government and the other side might become the government, and it will be even worse news for Zahid and Najib,” he said.

Oh said if MN’s breakaway from Bersatu does materialise, then Muhyiddin and his party would be at the mercy of anyone willing to work with them, leaving them caught “between a rock and a hard place.”

He reiterated the point that Umno and PAS with MN would not be willing to give up any of their seats to Bersatu, while at the same time, would try and recapture seats lost to Muhyiddin’s party during the last election.

“And if Bersatu tries to go back to the other side (Opposition), of course, the other side will look at them as traitors.

“So I think Bersatu will be hard put in the next general election; I don’t know how they will survive,” said Oh, whose opinion was echoed by Awang Azman.

Signs of uncertainty

For one analyst, however, Umno’s refusal to commit to PN could also suggest confusion or indecisiveness among the party’s leadership over which alliance would best benefit them.

Universiti Putra Malaysia political scientist Jayum Jawan said he believes the move not to formalise its position in PN was made to allow Umno to keep its political options open.

This, on the flipside, he said, also highlights the contrast in Umno’s position which sees its lawmakers still in support of Muhyiddin, Bersatu, and PN to maintain its role at the helm of the federal government, while on the party level, it has clearly denounced any intention to formalise a partnership.

“Umno appears to be in a very precarious position. It is easy to say that Umno is not supporting PN, because at the same time, Umno is part of BN, and also part of MN.

“But it appears that Umno and its leadership are at a crossroads and are indecisive, or perhaps even confused, as to what they really want to do,” he suggested.

Umno’s decision not to be a component party of PN was announced by Zahid on Thursday.

But despite it coming on the heels of Najib’s guilty verdict, he stressed that the decision was made on July 24 by the party’s supreme council.

When pressed to reveal if the decision against joining PN was indeed in reaction to Najib’s conviction, Zahid told reporters to interpret the situation on their own, without elaborating further.

The PN government is currently made up of MPs from Bersatu, PAS and Umno, along with component parties of BN and those aligned with Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).

Muhyiddin’s Bersatu currently has 31 parliamentary seats, trailing Umno’s 39 seats; PAS and GPS as the government’s main components have 18 seats each.

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