UMNO’s dilemma in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition government – Part 2

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Bangi on the 25th of April, 2020

BERSATU’s leadership is aware of its fragile political position. Its short term priority is to ensure the stability of the current government. They will offer GLC and other government agency positions to PN backbenchers in order to secure their loyalty. They will continue to ‘entice’ opposition MPs to join PN with various offers. The Prime Minister will continue to seek Tun Mahathir’s ‘blessing’ for his government. The current BERSATU leaders will also want to strengthen their positions within the party by winning positions in the upcoming party elections.

But even if BERSATU can slightly increase PN’s parliamentary majority in the short term, it cannot hope to just continue with the status quo until GE15. BERSATU knows that UMNO and PAS has no incentive to have a PN coalition contest in GE15. It knows that it is much weaker in terms of its political machinery and branding compared to UMNO and PAS.

Hence, it has only one option for survival which is to replace UMNO as the main Malay party in a ruling coalition. To do this, BERSATU has to do the following:

I. Entice more UMNO MPs and ADUNs to join BERSATU and to ‘divide’ UMNO in preparation for GE15
II. Continue to put pressure on UMNO by not dropping the ongoing court cases against UMNO leaders
III. Try to build its alternative coalition to BN / MN / PH

Of course, some may bring up the possibility of BERSATU merging back with UMNO similar to what Semangat 46 (S46) did in the past. But S46 did not have ANY incumbents with government positions whereas in the case of BERSATU, you have many MPs who are used to the trappings of power and would do whatever it takes to retain their positions. They know that in a merger with UMNO, very few of them will survive the internal ‘purge’ and be allowed to contest in GE15. After all, many of its leaders, especially at the grassroot level, joined BERSATU because they were not able to obtain significant positions in UMNO. As such, the possibility of a merger is not preferable or possible for BERSATU.

UMNO knows that the more time BERSATU has, the greater the likelihood of it succeeding in weakening UMNO and building itself up in preparation for GE15. Hence, the optimal long term strategy for UMNO to regain its dominance in government is NOT to ensure that the current government led by Muhyiddin can last the full term until GE15 (which has to be called by 2023). Hence, UMNO has to choose the best time to withdraw support for this government in order to trigger a general election. This may not happen in the near future as the country is dealing with the health and economic crisis created by the COVID 19 virus. But once there are signs that the COVID 19 health crisis becomes more manageable, UMNO’s leadership may strike at any time.

One thing which is hard to predict is the strategy of the UMNO MPs who have not been given any cabinet positions, especially those which have outstanding court charges. Will they ‘sabotage’ the current government by, for example, not turning up to lend support to a key government bill and by doing so, trigger the collapse of the government? This consideration becomes more likely if the court cases against the UMNO President, the UMNO Secretary General and some members of the UMNO Supreme Council are not dropped before the end of 2020.

In the meantime, we can already see some signs of disgruntlement among UMNO leaders against the current government. Their targets seem to be focused on BERSATU leaders so far. For example, UMNO Youth Chief, Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, questioned Azmin Ali’s decision to allow additional sectors to operate from the 15th to the 28th of April (pic 1).

Former MP for Johor Bahru, Shahrir Samad, questioned the need for MITI to get involve in sectors such as hair cutting, asking if MITI is now a ‘Super Minister’ under Senior Minister, Azmin Ali (pic 2).

Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir, former Menteri Besar of Perak, tweeted pictures of undistributed food aid from Jabatan Kebajikan Malaysian (JKM) and questioned BERSATU Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Rina Harun, on whether they were waiting for the ‘penyelaras parlimen’ or parliamentary coordinator to be appointed before the aid could be distributed (pic 3).

Khaled Nordin, former Menteri Besar of Johor, also criticised the Deputy Health Minister, Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali, for having a meal with a group of tahfiz students in Perak during the MCO by saying that this was not a good example to set for others (pic 4).

There will likely be more of these kinds of direct and indirect attacks by UMNO leaders against the PN government, especially from leaders who did not agree to the formation of the PN government together with BERSATU.

This dilemma is the main reason why the PN government will not likely last the full 3 years before this parliamentary term expires in May 2023. The UMNO dilemma is a real threat for BERSATU and for the PN government.