KUALA LUMPUR - The possibility that former Umno leaders, including former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin, will join Malaysia’s opposition for the upcoming state elections may not be enough to topple Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s administration, according to analysts.
“Overall, it is unlikely to create a large wave of support that could threaten the unity government,” Dr Mazlan Ali, senior lecturer at the Razak Faculty of Technology and Informatics at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, told The Straits Times.
Mr Hafidzi Razali, associate director at risk consultancy BowerGroupAsia, said it will prove challenging for the opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN) to sustain its momentum among Malay voters in the semi-rural and rural areas, particularly among youth, and enticing former Umno members will do little to change this.
Several Umno leaders, who were purged from the party in January for demanding that party president Zahid Hamidi resign over Umno’s dismal showing at last November’s general election, could join the opposition ahead of six state polls expected in July.
Former Umno secretary-general Annuar Musa – one of the key leaders sacked or suspended from Malaysia’s longest-ruling party – confirmed he had applied to join Umno’s long-time rival Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS). He claimed that more than 1,000 Umno members were following suit.
Mr Khairy, another casualty of January’s purge, suggested in jest on Thursday that he may form a new political party with former Democratic Action Party MP Ong Kian Ming, while contemplating an offer to join the Malay-centric Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia. “The media will then have their headlines tomorrow,” Mr Khairy was quoted as saying by The Star daily.
“If he (Khairy) is president, I would consider it,” the DAP member said in response.
Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin said last week that Mr Khairy, who is influential and popular among many voters, would be offered a post on the party’s supreme council if he accepted. The PN coalition comprises PAS and Bersatu as its main parties.
Not short of job offers, Mr Khairy’s contract as a radio deejay at Hot FM has also been extended to the end of 2023, with an additional hour added to his segment, which airs every Monday at 7am.
During Monday’s podcast, Mr Khairy, who previously said he has received offers from other political parties, revealed he would not rush into a decision and would choose a party that represents his values and political stance.
But Dr Mazlan said it would be difficult for the Oxford graduate to reconcile with PAS’ religious policies, highlighting how Mr Khairy criticised the Islamist party for demanding that British rock band Coldplay’s upcoming concert be banned.
“Khairy’s problem is simply with Zahid. His spirit is still with Umno. I don’t think Khairy will like to be with PAS. It is dominant in PN. Khairy seems more suited to Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan (compared with PN) – he is educated and progressive.
“It remains to be seen if Khairy will return to Umno if there is a change in leadership.”
Joining Bersatu would also not make it any easier for Mr Khairy to achieve his ambitions of becoming prime minister one day, Mr Hafidzi said, given the standing of former PM Muhyiddin and party secretary-general Hamzah Zainudin in Bersatu’s hierarchy.
“Sustaining a PN government is also less certain, given the rising ethno- and religious conservatism within PAS – which is limiting PN’s potential to expand its influence to non-Malays and fence sitters in the urban areas,” said Mr Hafidzi.
PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan has said that at least 10 former Umno leaders will be joining PN.
Several past Umno leaders, including former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and former Umno minister Noh Omar, were seen at recent Hari Raya Aidilfitri gatherings with PN leaders.
As former Selangor Umno chief, Tan Sri Noh could still sway grassroot support at the state election.
As for Mr Annuar’s entry into PAS, Mr Hafidzi said it was not surprising.
Mr Annuar is a long-time politician in the conservative northern state of Kelantan, where PAS has ruled for more than three decades. Adapting to PAS will not be a difficult transition for him, Mr Hafidzi said.
The move could weaken support for Umno in his former parliamentary seat of Ketereh in Kelantan.
Said Dr Mazlan: “Annuar entering PAS will provide it a slight advantage, he has been part of Kelantan politics for a long time.”