Malaysia’s oldest political party said Tuesday that it would work with a Muslim-based rival party, less than 24 hours after fellow founding partners in the Barisan Nasional coalition asked that the bloc be dissolved or restructured.
Mohamad Hassan, acting president of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party, announced plans to collaborate with the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) to ensure unity and stability in the country.
Hassan said the effort to join ranks with PAS did not change the Barisan coalition, which had controlled Malaysian government for decades until it crashed out of power in last year’s general election.
“This is not the unification of parties. It is just a cooperation on the matter that is being championed by both parties,” he said. “There will be no new symbol. It is just a matter of working together.
“Because what we want to achieve is the peace and harmony we used to have before this,” he said.
Joining with Hassan for the announcement, PAS deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man said the two parties would try to find issues that brought them together.
“Even in PAS, we have members who are not Muslim. “Our concept is ummah (community) and our focus is the government interest,” he said.
On Monday, leaders of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) co-signed a statement calling for a change, stating their alliance with UMNO had been undermined in recent months. Specifically, they challenged the appointment of hardline UMNO Supreme Council member Nazri Aziz as BN’s secretary general, stating that his “repeated racial remarks” had harmed the coalition’s mutual respect.
Nazri responded on Monday, saying he welcomed the potential MCA and MIC departures.
“Both parties have only one seat each, they need BN more than BN needs them,” he told BenarNews.
The possible defections by members of the ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian parties could benefit UMNO by allowing it to cooperate with PAS to attract voters from the Malay Muslim majority, said a political analyst with the Academy of Malay Studies at Universiti Malaya.
“With MCA and MIC out of the way, there is no stopping other parties from joining BN, and this might not be the end of BN just yet,” Awang Azman Awang Pawi said.
On Tuesday, Hassan said UMNO and PAS would focus on parliamentary by-elections and, if successful, could continue into the next general election. In addition, the parties would work together to serve as a check and balance on the new government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Barisan Nasional suffered its first electoral defeat in May 2018. The upstart Pakatan Harapan coalition scored a stunning upset in the May 9 general election and returned Mahathir, who had served as prime minister while leading BN, to power.
Since then, 39 of BN’s members of parliament have left the coalition with many aligning with Pakatan.
Hassan was elected as UMNO’s vice president following the electoral defeat and became acting president in December when Ahmad Zahid Hamidi took leave in response to the exodus of party members.
Prior to the election loss, Zahid had served as deputy to Prime Minister Najib Razak. Like Najib, Zahid faces charges of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering linked to the beleaguered 1MDB state fund.