KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian authorities on Thursday (April 5) ordered former premier Mahathir Mohamad’s year-old party to temporarily cease its activities, in a move criticised by the party as an “abuse of power by a regime that is desperate to stay in office.”
Just ahead of a general election expected to be held within weeks, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) was slapped with a temporary deregistration order by the Registrar of Societies for failing to submit documents and details regarding its annual general meeting (AGM) in December last year as requested by the registrar.
PPBM has 30 days to fulfill the ROS request, failing which it will be permanently disbanded. It can also appeal the order.
In the meantime, the opposition party founded by Tun Mahathir after leaving ruling party Umno is not allowed to use its logo or conduct any party activity. This could hobble PPBM in the crucial weeks leading to the upcoming polls, as it will not be able to campaign directly using its own logo or solicit for funds.
“Umno is clearly scared and they are doing everything they can to stop the rise of PPBM,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, a member of PPBM’s supreme council.
PPBM is part of Pakatan Harapan (PH), a four-party opposition pact that also faces hurdles at the ROS, which has refused to register PH as a coalition due to the alleged irregularities at PPBM.
PH said it would file an application to cite the ROS for contempt over the PPBM decision.
PPBM, which is also helmed by former Umno stalwarts Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Dr Mahathir’s son Mukhriz, is a key ally to draw in the rural Malay vote - seen as a decisive factor in the election outcome - for the pact.
Anticipating that the authorities will not officially recognise either PH or PPBM ahead of the polls, the opposition alliance is expected to announce on Friday (April 6) that it will campaign and contest in the election under the banner of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
PKR was formed by Dr Mahathir’s former nemesis Anwar Ibrahim two decades ago, after he was sacked as deputy prime minister by Dr Mahathir.
The Straits Times understands that only the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), which has run since 1969 using its iconic rocket symbol, had reservations about using the PKR logo prior to Thursday’s emergency leadership meeting, but its leaders have conceded that while it will have to work to allay concerns from its grassroot members, it is a necessary gambit to swing the crucial Malay vote.
“In fact, Mahathir had agreed without hesitation since last week because it was the pragmatic thing to do. This will show we are united, and not controlled by DAP as alleged by Umno,” a top PH leader said.
He was referring to Umno’s claims that despite Dr Mahathir having led Umno and Malaysia for 22 years before resigning in 2003, it is DAP that calls the shots, and will dismantle pro-Malay and Islamic policies if it comes to power.
“At this moment we have already decided on the logo but we will announce it tomorrow. So you are invited tomorrow to Pasir Gudang, where you will be entertained by very good speakers including myself,” Dr Mahathir said after the leadership meeting, referring to a mass rally in Johor to be held Friday night.
A former premier joining the opposition, as well as taking leadership of it, is unprecedented in Malaysia where Umno has never lost power since independence.
The 92-year-old Dr Mahathir was himself the target of an Umno exodus in 1998, after Anwar Ibrahim, now in jail for a controversial sodomy conviction, was sacked as his deputy. This sparked the “Reformasi” movement and the establishement of PKR.
“We are about to witness the climax of realpolitik when Tun Dr Mahathir contests in the election under the Keadilan logo,” said Mr Najwan Halimi, a PKR grassroots leader.
Analysts believe the decision to use a single logo will mean voters will not be confused between the main opposition and BN, leaving Parti Islam SeMalaysia “out in the cold” as a third option.
“It’s a clear signal of the coming together of Dr M and Anwar and especially for the Reformasi stalwarts that M has fully come on board. But it would be portrayed as the ultimate betrayal by Najib and Umno,” said Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ Johan Saravanamuttu.