GEORGE TOWN, Nov 17 — Allegations of the unity government’s involvement in the defection of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) lawmakers could ultimately undermine the ruling coalition if proven to be true, according to political experts.
Universiti Sains Malaysia Political Analyst Professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid expressed disapproval of political defections as a strategy, but acknowledged that there was no evidence that Pakatan Harapan, Barisan Nasional, or any others in the unity government were involved in such practice.
However, he said the fact that the four Bersatu MPs’ statements explaining their defections looked “amazingly similar” suggested that there was coordination involved.
“If it’s true that there’s a deliberate scheme to trigger defections from Bersatu, it simply goes to show that behind the scenes, PH-BN is still playing politics despite having secured the majority to govern, when what it should be concentrating on is nation-building which has become doubly difficult in post-normal times,” he said.
Between October 12 and November 9, Bersatu’s MPs for Kuala Kangsar, Labuan, Gua Musang, and Jeli publicly declared support for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s government while insisting they remained loyal to the party, effectively circumventing the law against political defections.
Ahmad Fauzi pointed out that Bersatu has alleged that state institutions such as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) were being used against the Opposition.
Although the four defecting Bersatu MPs have denied coercion in their decision to support the government, Ahmad Fauzi said this could still allow Perikatan Nasional to keep playing the victim card and claim political persecution against its leaders and lawmakers.
He added that this could be extremely damaging to PH-BN’s reputation.
“If PN can devise a way out of their MPs’ financial dilemmas, for instance by pooling resources and cooperating more closely at grassroots level between Bersatu and PAS politicians, PN should be able to get through its present crisis,” he said.
Professor of Asian Studies from University of Tasmania James Chin believed that the defections could be a strategy to weaken Bersatu and, by extension, PN.
Saying PAS — the coalition’s other major party — lacked experience in the federal government, Chin said a diminished Bersatu would curb the appeal of PN as the country’s leaders.
“Once Bersatu is destroyed, it will be much harder for PN to project themselves as capable of ruling Malaysia,” he said.
On Tuesday, Bersatu’s Armada chief Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal alleged that he and nine other of the party’s federal lawmakers had been plied with “offers” to support the unity government, ranging from constituency development funds to outright cash payments.
Despite such claims, however, two other analysts believed the defections were organic in nature and not due to any scheming by Bersatu’s rivals.
Senior Fellow of Singapore Institute of International Affairs Oh Ei Sun said the four MPs who defected from Bersatu were being opportunistic.
“They were taking advantage of the precarious situation for hopeful self-benefaction, and not so much deliberate attraction by unity government,” he said.
Universiti Malaya sociopolitical analyst Associate Professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi said the issue of the unity government allegedly attracting defectors from Bersatu does not arise, as the four Bersatu MPs’ decision was “mostly due to their support for the unity government.”
He further said the defections were due to weaknesses in the Opposition coalition rather than any enticement from its rivals.
“This is because a crisis of trust in PN has erupted,” he said, adding that it was not impossible for PN to suddenly lose support as it had shot to success just as rapidly during last year’s 15th general election.
He said the current situation could slow down the “green wave” from progressing especially in mixed demographics areas.
“Even PAS areas may be affected although the scale and timeframe of the impact may not be in the near future,” he said.
However, Oh disagreed that the “green wave” would slow as a result of Bersatu weakening.
“The green wave is likely to sweep over most Malay voters in any case, as there is a groundswell of yearning for increased religiosity in society,” he said.