UMNO says it will join unity govt – but not with Muhyiddin

Iman Muttaqin Yusof and Nisha David
Kuala Lumpur
UMNO says it will join unity govt – but not with Muhyiddin Barisan Nasional Chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi waves to the media as his vehicle is about to enter the National Palace compound in Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 23, 2022.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Malaysia’s long-ruling and corruption-tainted UMNO – which was trounced in the inconclusive general election – said early Thursday it would obey a royal “decree” to help form the government.

The “unity government” would not be led by Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional, the UMNO statement said, referring to the coalition that came in second behind opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim’s bloc after voting on Nov. 19.

The king has not issued a decree on a unity government, to date, but has called a meeting of his fellow rulers on Thursday to discuss who should be named Malaysia’s tenth prime minister.

“The Supreme Council has unanimously decided to support and uphold the kings decree that Barisan Nasional support and participate in a unity government that is not led by Perikatan Nasional to ensure that a stable and prosper government can be formed,” UMNO’s statement said, referring to the coalition it anchors.

All Barisan representatives elected Nov. 19 would “obey and accept any form of unity government or other type of government announced by His Majesty,” it said.

Barisan Nasional is a potential kingmaker even though it suffered a humiliating defeat in Saturday’s elections, because its 30 seats would help the two contenders – Perikatan and Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan – achieve majority support to form a government.

On Wednesday, Malaysia’s king told Barisan’s leader that the bloc’s MPs must participate in a unity government, chair Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told a local news site.

Concurrently, King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah also called a meeting of his fellow rulers for the following day, to discuss who should be named prime minister.

The United Malays National Organization’s statement came after Zahid, who is also the party’s president, met the king Wednesday. The statement said UMNO’s core group made its decision after deliberating on whether to back Muhyiddin’s Perikatan or Anwar’s Pakatan.

The king on Tuesday had expressed his preference for what he called a unity government, which Muhyiddin rejected, but Anwar seemed open to.

And he repeated it on Wednesday in meetings with Barisan leader Zahid Hamidi and the representative of a coalition called Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), which won 23 seats, the two said.

“His Majesty’s decree was to form a unity government. The king has decreed that BN’s 30 MPs must participate in a unity government,” Zahid told the local news site Malaysiakini, referring to Barisan Nasional.

Barisan had earlier said it would sit in the opposition.

Royal Malaysian Police personnel set up roadblocks as they tighten security, along a road in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 23, 2022. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

‘Unity government can happen with Pakatan’

After meeting with Zahid and GPS, the palace issued a statement saying the king had called a meeting of rulers on Thursday.

“The purpose of the special meeting with Malay rulers is for the king to get their views before making a decision for the interests and stability of the country and people,” it said.

Malaysia’s council of rulers consists of the sultans of nine states and governors of the other four.

The King does not usually decide who will be prime minister, as the leader of the party or coalition that wins the majority of parliamentary seats becomes the country’s leader. However, the monarch does have the power to appoint a PM who he believes has the support of a majority of parliamentarians.

King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah has had to step in twice in the recent past to appoint prime ministers – in 2020 to appoint Muhyiddin and 2021 to appoint incumbent PM Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

In Saturday’s election, two opposition blocs emerged as leading candidates, although neither won a majority of 111 seats, while the incumbent Barisan was crushed with its lowest ever showing of 30 seats.

With its declared partners MUDA and DAP, Pakatan secured more parliamentary seats than any other coalition – 82 – according to results released by the Election Commission.

Muhyiddin's Perikatan, together with the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and Sabah-based GRS, was right behind, with 79.


Analyst Tunku Mohar Mokhtar, who spoke to BenarNews before UMNO’s announcement, was optimistic about a unity government.

“This is workable … while also conforming to the concept of proportionality among the component parts of the proposed coalition,” the analyst from the International Islamic University of Malaysia told BenarNews.

“So, unity government can happen with Pakatan, Barisan and GPS because the Sarawak-based bloc said at one time that it would support whoever BN supports,” said Tunku Mohar.

GPS had earlier said it would support a combination of Perikatan and Barisan, but its decision had received backlash by some within the bloc who did not want to ally with Perikatan constituent party PAS.

PAS, or the Malaysian Islamic Party, won 49 seats, according to its calculations, the most it has ever won. Some were contested under the Perikatan name, and some under the PAS name.

PAS is a conservative Muslim party that some non-Muslims are uncomfortable with, according to analysts. And Sarawak state’s population is 70 percent Christian.

Some Malaysians are also uncomfortable with the multiracial Pakatan coalition, fearing it will neglect the wellbeing of Malaysia’s ethnic Malay majority.

Meanwhile, the police on Wednesday tightened security nationwide after several posts were seen on social media promoting racial hatred in the multiethnic and multireligious country.

Video platform TikTok on Wednesday said it was on “high alert” for content that violates its guidelines amid the rise in ethnic tension on social media, reported Reuters news agency.

Fitri Hazim in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.