BN coalition stays intact, with PAS as loose ally

From left: MCA president Wee Ka Siong, Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan and MIC president S. A. Vigneswaran after yesterday's meeting. MCA and MIC on Monday said they were looking at forming a new alliance, and were "moving on" from Umno.
From left: MCA president Wee Ka Siong, Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan and MIC president S. A. Vigneswaran after yesterday's meeting. MCA and MIC on Monday said they were looking at forming a new alliance, and were "moving on" from Umno.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Umno free to corral PAS support to fight against Mahathir's ruling Pakatan Harapan

Malaysia's former ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) will remain intact, for now, after a meeting of key leaders yesterday ended without a consensus to disband it.

The meeting came after two of its three members - the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) - threatened to break away from the decades-old alliance following disagreements with Malay nationalist party Umno that dominates BN.

MCA and MIC on Monday said they were looking at forming a new alliance, and were "moving on" from Umno.

"The meeting doesn't have a consensus to dissolve BN," said BN's acting chairman Mohamad Hasan after the coalition's first meeting since it was toppled from power in last year's general election.

"We are very much intact."

BN was left with its three founding members after the exit of 10 parties following May's election loss.

The BN meeting was closely watched amid voter dissatisfaction with the Pakatan Harapan ruling alliance led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Meanwhile, Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) on Tuesday announced a formal pact to cement Malay voter support.

Yesterday's decision meant that BN now has Islamist party PAS as an ally to jointly fight against Tun Dr Mahathir's PH.

NO BREAK-UP

The meeting doesn't have a consensus to dissolve BN. We are very much intact.

BN'S ACTING CHAIRMAN MOHAMAD HASAN, after the coalition's first meeting since it was toppled from power in last year's general election.

Mr Adib Zalkapli, director at public policy consultants Bower Group Asia, said: "Umno is the biggest winner here... The party is practically free to pursue another cooperation with PAS outside the BN framework. Meanwhile, MCA and MIC appear to be trapped in a partnership they have no control over."

Umno has 38 MPs in the federal Parliament and PAS 18. MCA and MIC have one seat each.

Their 58 seats together make up just over a quarter (26 per cent) of the 222 total seats in Parliament.

The four PH parties have 125 seats, with support of 10 MPs from two PH-friendly Sabah parties.

 
 
 
 

Associate Professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi of Universiti Malaya said that without the BN structure, MCA and MIC's political lifespan would be shorter.

"This is because they (MCA and MIC) still need Umno's support as their victories were due to Malay votes. They would have long been buried in politics if it wasn't for Umno," he said.

"To become a strong opposition, there needs to be a check-and-balance, MCA and MIC should focus on the enemy, which is PH. The dispute within BN will not hurt anyone's chances of winning other than their own," Mr Azman added.

MIC president S. A. Vigneswaran said at the end of the BN meeting that his Indian-based party has no problem working with PAS. "DAP had worked with PAS in two (general) elections," he said. "When they got married (to PAS) it is legal, but when we want to get married, it has become illegal?"

He was referring to the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP), now part of PH, which worked with PAS in previous polls.

The combined strength of the two largest Malay opposition parties, Umno and PAS, has delivered two by-election wins - in Cameron Highlands, Pahang, and in Semenyih, Selangor - this year.

PAS sat out the two contests, allowing the Umno-BN candidates to win both times.

There is more possible danger for PH: of the 222 Parliament seats, 119 are Malay-majority wards (nearly 54 per cent). This means the BN-PAS pact could do more electoral damage to Dr Mahathir's alliance in the months ahead.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2019, with the headline 'BN coalition stays intact, with PAS as loose ally'. Print Edition | Subscribe