Anwar holds talks with Umno, but says it's too early for decision

Malaysian opposition leader says it would be premature to indicate any possibility of cooperation in next election

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, speaking at a press conference at a hotel in Petaling Jaya yesterday, confirmed that cooperation between Umno and the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition is possible.
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, speaking at a press conference at a hotel in Petaling Jaya yesterday, confirmed that cooperation between Umno and the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition is possible.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said yesterday that he has met several Umno leaders to discuss possible political cooperation but it was too early to come to a decision.

His press conference followed whispers that political enemies Umno and Pakatan Harapan (PH) would work together in the next general election, which could turn Malaysian politics on its head.

"I've already said it would be premature to indicate any possibility of cooperation in the next general election. At this stage, we are just discussing," said Datuk Seri Anwar, confirming what he said in an interview at the weekend with the Mingguan Malaysia newspaper, that cooperation between Umno and the opposition PH coalition is possible.

"We are just in the midst of initial discussions."

Umno is a member of Malaysia's governing Perikatan Nasional (PN) alliance, led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, in the last one year. But Umno has been at loggerheads with Tan Sri Muhyiddin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, which leads the 12-party PN.

Umno's internal schism over whether to continue working with Mr Muhyiddin has reached fever pitch this year.

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi's faction, which includes former premier Najib Razak, wants to cut ties with the Premier's Bersatu, claiming that Umno has been handed a raw deal despite being the largest party in government.

But others, like Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa, believe the party must unite with other major Malay parties which include Parti Islam SeMalaysia to ensure victory in polls expected later this year.

Mr Anwar, asked if his discussions included meeting Najib, said he met any and all lawmakers.

"What is the need for me to deny? I have talks with everyone. I even discussed cooperation with Tun Mahathir before," he said, referring to another former premier, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, an ally-turned-political nemesis-again.

PH consists of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), which is led by Mr Anwar, the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), and small Islamic faction Parti Amanah Negara. PKR was formed in 1998 as a splinter party of Umno following Mr Anwar's sacking, and has always been a thorn in Umno's side, while the DAP is constantly used by Umno as a bogeyman.

On the flip side, the opposition parties have been attacking Umno for decades.

There is thus scepticism that Umno, which dominated Malaysian politics until it lost in the 2018 General Election, would be able to work with PH.

There are also questions over whether Umno would let Mr Anwar lead such an alliance to achieve his burning ambition to become Malaysia's prime minister.

Amanah communications chief Khalid Abdul Samad said yesterday that Umno had long been synonymous with "racism, corruption, and power abuse".

"It has to be asked - is Umno willing to play second fiddle to Harapan? I think we all know the answer," he added.

Mr Anwar, in his news conference, said that to work with Umno, PH will not compromise on its reform agenda and the principles of good governance.

"We are not going to compromise on the principles, the policies, and the values that we have adopted this far," he said.

Earlier, Umno information chief Shahril Hamdan said that the party has not budged from a decision by its top policymaking body, the supreme council, to not work with PKR or the DAP.

"The decision made at Umno's annual meeting 2019 is still in effect and numerous statements by top party leaders made no mention of cooperation with PKR and DAP.

"Rejecting cooperation with Bersatu does not mean immediately being together with another party," Mr Shahril said in a statement yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2021, with the headline 'Anwar holds talks with Umno, but says it's too early for decision'. Subscribe