Opposition Leader: Lawmakers Are Being ‘Enticed’ to Support Malaysia’s Ruling Coalition

Muzliza Mustafa
Kuala Lumpur
2021-03-16
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Opposition Leader: Lawmakers Are Being ‘Enticed’ to Support Malaysia’s Ruling Coalition Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speaks at a press conference at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur on March 16, 2021.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Days after the vice president of his party quit and announced support for the ruling coalition, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Tuesday alleged that five lawmakers had been threatened or offered “enticements” to do the same, ahead of general elections expected this year.

Anwar also said that his party’s talks with Malaysia’s oldest party, UMNO – which has announced it will split from the ruling coalition in the next elections – about joining forces in the polls are at a very preliminary stage.

Anwar said that five MPs from the party he heads, People’s Justice Party (PKR), were approached with offers to switch sides. He listed them as Natrah Ismail, M. Karupaiya, Kesavan Subramaniam, Awang Husairi Sahari and Michael Teo.

“The MPs had spoken about it - the threat, the enticement as bait to offer support for Perikatan Nasional,” Anwar said, referring to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s ruling coalition.

“We do not defend those who take bribes and we do not condone that the authorities are being used as a political weapon. It appears to be the case with the MACC. If you switch support, investigations will be postponed or thrown out, if not, the harassment continues,” Anwar said at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, after a meeting with PKR leaders and MPs.

Anwar alleged that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the Inland Revenue Board, and law enforcement officials were issuing threats to some of his party members to pressure them to change allegiance.

On Saturday, PKR vice president Xavier Jayakumar said that he was quitting the party and pledging support to Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional as an independent MP.

Two other PKR lawmakers, Larry Sng and Steven Choong, quit the party on Feb. 28 and declared themselves independents in support of the ruling alliance.

After Jayakumar announced his exit from PKR, the party’s secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution alleged that the MACC had intimidated the MP. He also alleged that a senior minister had told Jayakumar to support Perikatan “or face serious consequences.”

Anwar said on Tuesday that he planned to schedule a meeting with the MACC to discuss the issue.

“Utterly baseless”

A day after Jayakumar quit, a group of former PKR MPs issued a statement criticizing Nasution for alleging that opposition lawmakers were being threatened to support the ruling bloc.

“[T]he allegation that Perikatan Nasional is using enticement and intimidation to garner the support of MPs from Pakatan Harapan is utterly baseless,” the statement said, referring to the opposition coalition of Anwar’s PKR and other parties.  

“The fact of the matter is that these MPs have made their own objective assessment and realized that the PN Government has taken responsible measures in dealing with the pandemic.”

These former PKR MPs – who now support the government as independents – had quit the party in February 2020, around the same time that Muhyiddin and his Bersatu party quit the then-Pakatan Harapan government.

Muhyiddin and Bersatu quit after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad resigned following internal squabbling in Pakatan.

Bersatu then joined forces with the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO – which had been routed in the 2018 elections by Pakatan - to cobble together the Perikatan alliance.

Muhyiddin convinced Malaysia’s king that Perikatan had majority support in parliament and became prime minister on Mar. 1, 2020.

"Too early to talk about cooperation"

Meanwhile, with UMNO declaring it won’t contest with Perikatan in general elections expected later this year, all prominent parties are on the hunt for viable alliances.

Anwar and Pakatan are also looking to gain from the break-up of Perikatan.

Anwar confirmed at Tuesday’s press conference that he was indeed in talks with UMNO – which he had once disparaged as corruption-ridden.

“We have had initial discussion with UMNO.  It has not been formalized. It is too early to talk about cooperation,” Anwar said.

“I am not denying a possible pact in the future and I have said all this to [PKR] leaders and our MPs so they can disseminate this information to the grassroots.”

Anwar said that the he and PKR would not compromise on their principles if and when they decided to work with UMNO.

Meanwhile, UMNO may not be as interested in an alliance with Pakatan, said political analyst and retired academic Azmi Hassan.

“UMNO is not really serious in striking a deal with PKR or Pakatan Harapan. This is just part of UMNO strategy to pressure Bersatu on seats allocation. UMNO is showing that they have other options, unlike Bersatu,” Hassan told BenarNews.

UMNO’s relationship with Bersatu had been rocky for months before it announced it would not contest with Muhyiddin’s party in the next election.

Lawmakers quitting PKR was expected, indicated political analyst Oh Ei Sun.

“That PKR is being decimated gradually is not surprising, as even absent the inducements and the threats, many have lost faith in Anwar’s boastful but fruitless leadership,” Oh, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told BenarNews on Monday.

 “It is very likely that more will join the exodus.”

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