KUALA LUMPUR - Eight former Sabah Umno leaders have been officially accepted into Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), one of the four member parties of the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance.
The group comprises four federal MPs, two senators and two Sabah assemblymen.
The move boosted the number of MPs in PPBM, which is led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, from 22 to 26.
PH itself added on four more MPs with the move, bringing its total to 129 legislators.
Together with 10 more seats from its two Sabah allied parties, PH now has 139 federal MPs.
This is just nine short of the 148 MPs needed to form a two-thirds supermajority in the 222-seat Parliament.
Tun Mahathir has said several times that he is keen to have a two-thirds majority in Parliament to enable his government to amend the federal Constitution without asking for support from opposition MPs.
The government is keen to amend laws to limit the tenure of the Prime Minister, menteris besar and chief ministers to two terms, he has said. This is a key reform meant to limit future abuses by long-serving top officials.
The four MPs from Umno were among 12 who had left the Malay nationalist party after the general election, some of whom remained as independent MPs.
The former Sabah leaders were awarded their membership cards by PPBM chairman Dr Mahathir after a meeting at his private foundation on Friday (March 15).
The two senators are from Malaysia's Upper House of Parliament. The four MPs who have just joined PPBM are from the Lower House of Parliament in Malaysia's bicameral system.
The two new PPBM state assemblymen will now join PH's Sabah allied parties, Parti Warisan Sabah and United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko), to govern the East Malaysia state.
The four MPs who joined PPBM include former Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ronald Kiandee.
The move by Dr Mahathir to accept former Umno lawmakers into his party has raised concern over its integrity, with some critics saying PPBM resembles a new Umno.
The other PH members - Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara - are also worried that the alliance's reform image is taking a hit by the defections from Umno, a party that was rejected by voters at the polls.
"The decision will not sit well with DAP and PKR ... This can cause a ripple within the coalition," said political analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi of Universiti Malaya.
"However, it is the opposite for Umno as it can now cleanse itself from those who are not loyal."
Prof Awang added that on the flipside, the defections have brought PH closer to a supermajority in Parliament. "A two-thirds majority will allow PH to make amendments to the federal Constitution and push through wide scale reforms," he added.
Additional reporting by Trinna Leong