Mahathir or Muhyiddin? Bersatu split over party leadership

Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia's founding chairman Mahathir Mohamad and president Muhyiddin Yassin. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Malaysia's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia yesterday found itself split between founding chairman Mahathir Mohamad and president Muhyiddin Yassin, as the two politicians drew their knives out against each other in a tussle for the country's highest post.

A series of U-turns by the party leadership yesterday morning started with Tun Dr Mahathir's statement that he had the numbers to form the government, followed by a declaration from former ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) that it supports the 94-year-old politician.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin had gone in the other direction to become prime minister by seeking support from Malay opposition parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

Dr Mahathir and Mr Muhyiddin, 72, founded the party in 2016 with others who were unhappy with how the country was governed by then Premier Najib Razak, with accusations that billions of dollars are missing from state fund 1MDB.

Bersatu was fashioned along the lines of Malay nationalist party Umno that many of the founding members were from.

It now has 36 MPs, including 13 who were formerly from Umno, and 10 former Parti Keadilan Rakyat lawmakers.

Yesterday, soon after Dr Mahathir announced he had the support again from PH, Bersatu secretary-general Marzuki Yahya issued a statement saying that "the only individual with the absolute power to lead the party" was the Bersatu chairman, Dr Mahathir.

He added that all "party actions and directions" must be based on Dr Mahathir's decision.

This was around the same time that Mr Muhyiddin, with Umno and PAS leaders, were meeting with the Malaysian King to announce they had the minimum 112 MPs out of the total 222 to form a new government.

Just minutes later, the statement by Mr Marzuki was retracted.

This was quickly followed by a statement from Mr Muhyiddin that Dr Mahathir had resigned as chairman last Monday, and that Mr Muhyiddin himself is the acting party chairman.

This went against the party's position on Thursday that Dr Mahathir's resignation had been rejected by the party leadership.

Mr Marzuki then reissued a fresh statement yesterday, affirming that Dr Mahathir remains as Bersatu chairman.

Adding to the obvious split in the young party yesterday morning, Bersatu Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman tweeted his unhappiness with Mr Muhyiddin roping in the opposition parties to topple PH. Mr Syed Saddiq said "this is not about party or majority. This is about identity and integrity".

Mr Syed Saddiq was seen photographed with Dr Mahathir in a meeting early yesterday with PH leaders.

Dr Mahathir's son Mukhriz, who is a Bersatu vice-president, said on Instagram yesterday that six of the 36 party MPs, including the former premier, have decided to back PH, not the Muhyiddin faction.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 01, 2020, with the headline Mahathir or Muhyiddin? Bersatu split over party leadership. Subscribe