KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said on Tuesday (March 16) he has met with 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 the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition coalition 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," he said, confirming what he said in an interview over the weekend with the Mingguan Malaysia newspaper that a PH-Umno cooperation 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 PM Muhyiddin has reached fever pitch this year.
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamid's faction, which includes former premier Najib Razak, want to cut ties with the premier's Bersatu, claiming they have 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 with Najib, said he met with 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 ex-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 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 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 on Tuesday 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 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 it has not budged from a decision by its top policy-making policy body, the Umno supreme council, of not working 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 on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Mr Anwar at the news conference also addressed the defection of three PKR MPs in the last three weeks. They defected to support PN.
Mr Anwar claimed the defections were caused by harassment by the police, anti-corruption agency and income tax department, and that four other PKR MPs are being intimidated to cross to PN to get alleged criminal cases against them removed.
"This is not politics. This is an abuse of power through exercising pressure," he said at the press conference at a hotel in Petaling Jaya.
The PKR president earlier on Tuesday held a meeting with all 36 party federal lawmakers who gave their assurance that they won't defect. Both Mr Anwar and his wife Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail are also MPs.