Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said yesterday that his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia will formally join the Muafakat Nasional (MN) alliance that now groups the two biggest Malay-Muslim parties, Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
Addressing party members, Tan Sri Muhyiddin, who is Bersatu's president, said its entry into MN is expected to be finalised soon.
The alliance was formed by Umno and PAS last year to coalesce the Malay-Muslim vote behind them.
"I believe this is the best option for Bersatu," Mr Muhyiddin said.
His four-year-old party holds its first internal election this week.
His announcement came as Bersatu has been rocked by members quitting the party to join the newly formed Malay party of former premier Mahathir Mohamad, Parti Pejuang Tanah Air.
Tun Dr Mahathir, 95, founded Bersatu together with Mr Muhyiddin in 2016, but they split up earlier this year after the latter defected with most of the party's MPs to join Umno, PAS and other lawmakers to form the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government. The mass defections by some 40 MPs caused the collapse of the 22-month-old Pakatan Harapan (PH) government led by Dr Mahathir.
The five-month-old PN government has a slim single-digit majority in Parliament. Dr Mahathir, who had disagreed with the move by Mr Muhyiddin to switch camps, was subsequently removed from Bersatu, along with five other federal lawmakers aligned with him.
Mr Muhyiddin, 73, said yesterday: "We believe, by being in a coalition with Umno and PAS, and other parties in a grand coalition, the majority of the people's support will be with us. This will pave the way to political stability for the country."
The decision came some two weeks after Umno said it would not be formally joining PN, instead choosing to strengthen its alliance with PAS in MN.
Bersatu's move to also join MN, turning it into a three-party faction, will likely give Umno an upper hand in seat negotiations for the next general election, which has been speculated to be called by the year end or by early next year.
While Bersatu leads the PN government, Umno will remain the biggest party - by membership and by the number of its federal lawmakers - in MN. Umno has 38 MPs, Bersatu 32 and PAS 18.
Further, in Malaysia's fast-churn politics, over half of the current Bersatu MPs had defected from Umno, while six of the 13 elected Bersatu MPs are now with Dr Mahathir's new party.
PN, which recently applied to be registered as a formal entity sans Umno, is chaired by Mr Muhyiddin.
But MN remains an alliance without a formal registration, while a memorandum of understanding binds Umno and PAS together.
Mr Muhyiddin is unlikely to chair MN, an analyst said, putting him and his party at a disadvantage in the complicated seat negotiations.
This is because the three Malay-based parties - political enemies until recently and which had contested the same Malay-majority wards - must now put one of their candidates only in these same seats to stand against the opposition PH.
Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said: "Muhyiddin and his party essentially have no other political exit, as they are being marginalised by Umno and not yet welcomed back by PH."
Dr Oh told The Sunday Times that the only option left for Mr Muhyiddin is to join the alliance in the hope of retaining the seats that the party currently holds.
Bersatu yesterday purged 282 party members in its attempt to remove those who are aligned with Dr Mahathir. With the purge, Mr Muhyiddin is now the only founding member to remain with Bersatu.
Mr Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, a director with public policy consultants BowerGroupAsia, said joining MN was necessary for Mr Muhyiddin's party, as Dr Mahathir's new Pejuang is chipping away at Bersatu's support base.
"With its popularity waning, Bersatu can no longer demand a huge number of seat allocations.
"In order for Bersatu to survive in the general election, the party must work with Umno and PAS."