Without leadership revamp, analysts see Bersatu losing more MPs to defection

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 15 — A leadership crisis in Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia is the likely cause behind the recent defections of four of its lawmakers, according to analysts who said the trend would continue unless the party takes steps to address this.

They said Bersatu’s Kuala Kangsar MP Datuk Iskandar Dzulkarnain Abdul Khalid, Labuan MP Datuk Suhaili Abdul Rahman, Gua Musang MP Mohd Azizi Abu Naim, and Jeli MP Zahari Kechik will not be the last to publicly declare support for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s unity government before the next general election.

Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research senior fellow Azmi Hassan said he believed more Bersatu MPs were gauging the reaction to the de facto defections before deciding if they should follow suit.

“(Using) lack of allocation (as an excuse), I think, it’s a good camouflage for these four.

“I think that’s the reason that the negative impact on these four is very, very minimum. Why I said this is a camouflage because the real reason why these four particular for MPs made their decision is because their loss of confidence toward the leadership of Barsatu,” Azmi told Malay Mail when contacted.

Through his observations on the ground, Azmi concluded that Bersatu and the Perikatan Nasional (PN) appeared to be rudderless currently.

The hierarchy in the federal Opposition coalition is convoluted as Bersatu — despite having fewer MPs than PAS — is considered its lynchpin.

And while former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is the president of Bersatu and chairman of PN, he has chosen to leave the federal Opposition leader’s role to the party’s secretary-general, Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin.

“So, this loss of confidence, I think, needs to be handled rather quickly so that it won’t spread to other MPs. But I’m sure there are other MPs who will follow after the four,” Azmi said.

Azmi added that some Bersatu MPs were starting to see dimming prospects in remaining with PN as the coalition did not appear to have a strategy to be an effective Opposition or a distinct objective beyond gaining control of the federal government.

According to Universiti Malaya political analyst Mohammad Tawfik Yaakub, the inability to punish the four MPs for effectively hopping to the government’s side would embolden others to follow suit.

Although the actions of the four would be considered party-hopping, the constitutional amendment passed last year to prohibit political defections included a loophole for lawmakers to keep their seats so long as the do not resign from their parties when changing allegiances.

“PN will face a decline in strength and they will be further from their ambition to take control of the country,” Tawfik said when contacted.

Tawfik also said PN was unlikely to be able to offer anything to convince would-be defectors from going through, as the coalition did not have the resources to compete.

“Whoever has the power must have an advantage, in the political context of PN and Tan Sri Muhyiddin today, they do not have the advantage and power to make a lucrative offer.

“So, I see that it is difficult for Muhyiddin to offer anything more profitable without having the power and position as government,” he said.

Tawfik added that as long as there is no amendment to the anti-party hopping law, the act of throwing support for an opposing party will continue.

“I believe that the act of expressing support as done by the four Bersatu MPs can be repeated at any time.

“I don’t see any attraction that Bersatu can offer for MPs who expressed their support (to the prime minister), to return to the party in the near future,” he said.

Syaza Shukri, assistant professor of political science at International Islamic University Malaysia, suggested that Bersatu’s impotence in the matter would likely see it bleeding several more MPs.

However, she said further defections would not be pivotal as the unity government has already regained a supermajority in Parliament with the support of the four Bersatu lawmakers.

“What would happen (to Bersatu) really depends on how Bersatu wants to move forward. Bersatu can sack these MPs but at the cost of losing official number of Bersatu MPs in Parliament.

“But with these MPs moving their seats to the government side it effectively means they have lost number in Parliament. But it hasn’t triggered the anti-party hopping law because this is not considered wrong,” she said.

She also agreed that neither Muhyiddin nor Bersatu could stem the loss of lawmakers without the resources they had when they were in the government.

“Bersatu is different from PAS as PAS voters are ideological, so, it’s not really about the development fund. But Bersatu voters expect more so they (MPs) have to deliver,” she said.

Consequently, Syaza said Bersatu’s survival now depended on its relationship with others — be it PAS or Umno.

“We saw Muhyiddin talking about working with Najib and Mahathir (Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad). That’s the only way they can survive.

“On their own it’s a bit more difficult to convince voters how Bersatu is its own party with ideological and/or grassroot support, especially with its history since 2018 of MPs switching sides,” she said.

On October 12, the Kuala Kangsar MP was the first to throw his backing for Anwar, followed by Labuan MP on October 30, Gua Musang MP on November 7 and on November 9 the Jeli MP followed suit.

The Labuan MP has been suspended for six years, while Kuala Kangsar MP for four years, as for Gua Musang and Jeli MP, their fate has yet to be determined.

Both MPs have been referred to the Bersatu disciplinary board on November 9.