Chin Huat chat #2: Umno, PAS, Bersatu like three brothers after same girl

Martin Vengadesan
·5-min read
Chin Huat chat #2: Umno, PAS, Bersatu like three brothers after same girl
Chin Huat chat #2: Umno, PAS, Bersatu like three brothers after same girl

When Bersatu and PKR defectors pulled out of Pakatan Harapan and crossed the floor to join a coalition with Umno and PAS, it seemed like the dawn of a new dominant Malay-Muslim alliance that was in pole position for a lengthy rule.

However, in the months that followed, numerous fissures have formed between the would-be allies and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was even publicly held to ransom by senior Umno leaders.

Political analyst Wong Chin Huat says that far from being a marriage made in heaven, the tie-up has been fraught with competition for power.

“The year 2020 demonstrates a simple counter-intuitive fact in politics that many fail to understand - unity is difficult for people who share the same taste but more likely between those who have different tastes,” he told Malaysiakini in a series of chats about the current political scene.

“Umno, Bersatu, and PAS are like three brothers competing for the love of the same girl (conservative Malay voters).

“They tell the girl that her existential threats are another girl (liberal non-Malay voters) and her lovers (Harapan, especially DAP).

“Now that three brothers have won their lover’s heart, they are fighting amongst each other to have more of her love. This explains why the PN-BN-GPS+ government is all about Malays but without unity. The trio can only unite if they divide their territories and respect the division, like how Umno, PBB, and, up to the 1990s, Usno used to do, in the old BN."

Umno, Bersatu and PAS leadership.
Umno, Bersatu and PAS leadership.

The roots of the problem would appear to lie in Bersatu’s position of false strength. It was part of Harapan that won a total 113 parliamentary seats in the 2018 general election, but ex-premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad was its main drawing card, and even so, his party only won 13 seats.

However, Bersatu has consistently managed to score a disproportionate number of high-powered positions in the federal government, first in Harapan and now in Perikatan Nasional (PN).

“Umno is the strongest in terms of parliamentary strength, popular support, and on-the-ground machinery of the three but has the least of federal power per MP – only 41 percent of Umno MPs are ministers and deputy ministers.

“In contrast, Bersatu which has little machinery and grassroots support has built up its parliamentary strength from 13 to 31 by simply courting defectors from other parties: 15 from Umno and 10 from PKR.

“And it has generously rewarded itself beyond grabbing the prime minister’s position as 77 percent of Bersatu MPs are frontbenchers.

“PAS has the smallest number of MPs but commands the strongest loyalty amongst its leaders and members and it has a higher rate, 44 percent of frontbenchers amongst MPs,” said Wong.

Muhyiddin Yassin
Muhyiddin Yassin

According to him, whatever the politicians say, the game is very clear.

“Umno wants to claim back the PM’s job, reabsorb Bersatu as it did Semangat 46 in 1996 and contain PAS.

“Bersatu wants to hang on to the PM’s job and draw PAS into its orbit to check Umno, much like how Bersatu tried to draw Amanah away from PKR during Harapan’s time.

“PAS, as the smallest of the three, backs Bersatu to block Umno from restoring its hegemony,” said Wong.

Election may see internal sabotage

While there was initially a push for PN to hold federal elections soon after the Sabah state polls, the spike of Covid-19 cases put paid to such plans. Since then however, there is the suggestion that Muhyiddin may look to ride out the rest of his term – no elections need be called until 2023 – rather than risk his party getting slaughtered at the polls.

“Muhyiddin will not become PM if Bersatu wins significantly fewer seats than Umno.

“Even if Muhyiddin manages to get (Umno president Ahmad) Zahid Hamidi to agree on a 1-to-1 agreement, warlords in Umno may not play ball.

“After all, what political authority does an Umno president who concedes the PM’s job to its arch-rival for the second time have over the party’s hungry and angry grassroots?” asked Wong.

Wong Chin Huat
Wong Chin Huat

Given the antipathy expressed to Bersatu’s Azmin Ali by Umno and PAS divisions in Azmin’s current seat of Gombak, there is every chance that Bersatu candidates who rode on PKR and DAP support in the last general election will find themselves undermined by Umno and PAS in the next federal polls.

“You can expect sabotage by Umno on the Bersatu candidates,” said Wong bluntly.

“PAS would not be of much help to Bersatu if it gets Umno’s undertaking to support PAS in its own constituencies in exchange for PAS’ neutrality.

Wong said the cracks were nearly exposed in the hostile takeover of the Perak state government from Bersatu by Umno when menteri besar Ahmad Faizal Azumu was toppled in a confidence vote.

“Only one thing stands in Umno’s way to take on Bersatu: the 'Malay Unity' narrative, which has successfully prevented Perak Umno from forming a coalition or a minority government with a Confidence and Supply Agreement (CSA) with Harapan.

“Still, the moves by Umno-led state governments in Perak, Johor, and Perlis are early signs of the rapprochement with Harapan and repositioning as a centrist party like what Umno was largely, up to 2013.

You can expect more fights amongst the three brothers in 2021, said Wong.