Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi yesterday accused component parties of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition of boosting the chances of an opposition win, by not pulling their weight.
He told a press conference that Umno - the dominant party in the multi-ethnic coalition - has done its utmost to cooperate with other BN parties, but its efforts have not been reciprocated.
Umno is the only exclusively-Malay party in BN. Many of its one dozen allies are also race-based, which means parties tend to cater to their respective ethnic constituents.
Ethnic Malays make up almost 60 per cent of Malaysia's population, with the next largest ethnic groups being the Chinese (23 per cent), followed by the Indians (7 per cent).
"We must realign the respective DNAs of each party to support the BN candidate (in an election), instead of having our own DNA and supporting the candidates of other parties," the Umno vice-president said.
Datuk Seri Zahid officiated at the annual general assemblies of Umno's Youth, Women's and Puteri (young women) wings on Tuesday as acting deputy president, and called on BN components to "work as hard as Umno". This call was repeated by Umno youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin in his policy speech the next day.
But it was Mr Khairy's No. 2 - Mr Khairul Azwan Harun - who fanned the flames of discord by calling for BN to review its power-sharing "consensus, especially the status quo and the social contract", the latter referring to certain privileges and leeway given to each ethnic party to take care of its community's affairs.
He also warned that Umno might be inclined to form new alliances with Islamic parties if the multi-ethnic BN platform failed to garner success.
This led to a fierce rebuke by Umno's partners, especially the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), considered the second-biggest party in the alliance.
"Regardless of which component party loses a seat, it is a loss for BN and is not just the problem of the component party. This is a BN problem. BN must be introspective and not blame and provoke one another. Umno's fight has to be inclusive and promote unity among the races," MCA president Liow Tiong Lai said on Thursday.
Gerakan legal and human rights chief Baljit Singh also called on Umno to "speak for all Malaysians. It is no point just being hero for your own race; we are in a multi-racial coalition and should be aware of everyone's sensitivities".
In the last two elections, BN has progressively lost ground to the opposition. But while Umno still won 88 parliamentary seats in 2013, its partner parties fared much worse, with MCA going from 31 MPs in 2004 to seven at the last polls, and Gerakan slipping from 10 to just one in the same period.