Malaysia: Mahathir-led Group Files Paperwork for New Party

Melati A. Jalil and Haireez Azeem Azizi
Kuala Lumpur
180809-MY-party-620.jpg Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin speaks to reporters after filing registration papers for the formation of a new political party at the Registrar of Societies office in Putrajaya, Aug. 9, 2016.
Haireez Azeem Azizi

A new political party proposed by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and other leaders of a group that broke away from Malaysia’s dominant party on Tuesday moved a step closer to reality.

Muhyiddin Yassin, who was sacked as deputy prime minister last year, filed papers that seek to register the United Malaysian Indigenous Party (Bersatu) with the Home Ministry’s Registrar of Societies (ROS).

Mahathir, Yassin and other ex-members of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party are touting the new party they hope to form as one that would represent “all Malaysians,” bring about institutional reform and clean government, as well as challenge the leadership of a current prime minister shadowed by corruption allegations.

Muhyiddin filed the paperwork at the registrar’s office in Putrajaya because Mahathir, 91, was being treated for a chest infection and was being kept under medical observation for the next few days, the National Heart Institute confirmed.

Both Mahathir and Muhyiddin, who have been among Prime Minister Najib Razak’s most vocal critics over his alleged links to a financial scandal tied to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), would have top leadership roles in Bersatu.

Mahathir, who served as prime minister for 22 years, would serve as the new party’s chairman and Muhyiddin, whom Najib sacked last year because of his former deputy’s public criticism of him over 1MDB, would serve as its president.

Mahathir’s son, Mukhriz, the former chief minister of Kedah state, would be the vice-president. In June, Muhyiddin and Mukhriz were kicked out of UMNO for speaking out against Najib over the 1MDB affair.

In February, Mahathir quit the party that has headed Malaysia’s ruling coalition for decades. He then accused the party’s top leadership of shielding Najib from corruption allegations, which the prime minister has denied.

Now, it is up to the Registrar of Societies to weigh the Bersatu’s application for registration.

The registrar would act professionally according to its regulations and the home ministry would not interfere with the process, Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.

“I am confident the ROS will carry out its duty without prejudice. The application would be forwarded to a committee for a review for approval by the Home Minister,” state news agency Bernama quoted Zahid as saying.

‘A fair Malaysia’

Muhyiddin, who was replaced by Zahid as deputy PM, said the new party would be open to all Malaysians. The party’s membership would be made up of Bumiputera citizens, including indigenous people from the East Malaysia states of Sarawak and Sabah. Non-Bumiputera citizens would be recognized as “associate members.”

Bumiputera means “sons of the soil.” In Malaysia, the term is used to refer to members of the ethnic majority Malays and other indigenous peoples.

“We want to be inclusive. We will give them new recognition. We want them to play a role in terms of presenting ideas,” Muhyiddin told journalists after registering papers for the party’s formation.

Associate members would not be allowed to vote or compete for positions in the party, but would be eligible to be appointed to any position of the party.

The party’s main agenda consists of implementing institutional reforms and pursuing justice to protect the rights of every Malaysian, he said.

“The whole point is to form a fair Malaysia,” Muhyiddin said.

Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, a member of Bersatu’s committee, said it was important for Malay and Bumiputera youths to reject a culture of corruption as a way to save Malaysia.

“It is time for the Bumiputera to speak out, using this new platform. It’s OK if they want to maintain their identity, but be progressive and join this party,” said Syed Saddiq.

‘Splinter parties do not last’

However, some political analysts voiced doubts that the new party could survive for long, if it managed to take off.

“I doubt there will be a great support from the people, especially when those who will lead the new party are former UMNO leaders who have been seen as having their own agenda, which is to oust the current leadership,” Jeniri Amir, a political analyst based on Borneo island, told BenarNews

“Political parties that have personal agendas do not last long. This is proven based on the development of political parties in Malaysia. Splinter parties do not last,” he added.

But he noted that the People’s Justice Party (PKR), led by jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, was an exception.

Earlier, Mahathir had said that his new party would form a new opposition bloc that would exist alongside other opposition blocs and parties.

The Pakatan Harapan (PH) bloc consists of PKR, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the National Trust Party (PAN).  A faith-based party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), split from that bloc in June 2015 and has since touted itself as acting as a second opposition bloc against the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

Amir also predicted that it would be hard for Bersatu to enter East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), because raced-based parties from peninsular Malaysia would not appeal to the locals, he said.

Political analyst Mohamad Redzuan Othman agreed that PKR’s longevity was related to Anwar’s popularity.

“I don’t see the same fighting spirit from Muhyiddin, who is angry at Najib, and I don’t think they will be able to survive,” the Universiti Selangor vice chancellor told BenarNews.


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