BN in turmoil over who to back as rivals tussle to form govt

Barisan Nasional chief Ahmad Zahid Hamidi waves as he leaves the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur, on Nov 23, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia is no closer to forming a new government as potential kingmaker Barisan Nasional (BN) is being pulled apart at the seams in a tug-of-war between rival coalitions.

Ahead of a fourth set of leadership meetings on Wednesday night in as many days, BN leaders have revealed they have been at loggerheads. Dissent has emerged in the coalition over chairman Zahid Hamidi’s insistence on backing Pakatan Harapan (PH) chief Anwar Ibrahim, increasing the volume of calls for Zahid to vacate his office since BN was humiliated in Saturday’s general election.

The Straits Times had sighted a letter from Umno president Zahid to the King dated Tuesday, pledging support of his coalition’s 30 MPs to Datuk Seri Anwar despite BN’s agreed stance not to back either Mr Anwar or his Perikatan Nasional (PN) counterpart Muhyiddin Yassin.

BN leaders confirmed Zahid admitted sending the letter, with Malaysian Chinese Association secretary-general Chong Sin Woon repeating a call for the Umno president to allow his deputy Mohamad Hasan to replace him.

“At first he tried to deny the letter, but admitted to it after a BN Supreme Council member showed proof,” Mr Chong said.

Former Umno secretary-general Annuar Musa decried Zahid’s move as “an attempt to deceive the King”, adding that it was the second time the former deputy premier had done so, after issuing a similar letter to the King in Oct 2020 pledging BN support to Mr Anwar.

Top BN figures, as well as those from Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), had audiences on Wednesday morning with Malaysia’s King as he sought to determine who would lead the next government.

Leaders from both coalitions have confirmed they were asked to participate in a unity government, a proposal that Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah had surfaced in an audience with both Mr Anwar and PN chief Muhyiddin, the two leaders deadlocked in the race to be Malaysia’s next premier, at an audience on Tuesday.

Although it was “well received” by Mr Anwar, Mr Muhyiddin rejected the idea of working with PH, insisting he had the support of 115 MPs in the 222-strong legislature.

The King will be meeting his fellow rulers at a special gathering at the national palace on Thursday. Sultan Abdullah will be seeking opinions on the impasse in the formation of a federal government.

Malaysia’s King, Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, waves outside the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 21, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Meanwhile, a section of BN MPs including Umno deputy president Mohamad and caretaker Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob were meeting PN leaders at a Kuala Lumpur hotel on Wednesday afternoon.

Support from BN’s bloc of 30 MPs can allow one of the rival coalitions to form the government after the general election threw up Malaysia’s first ever hung Parliament. But BN has so far failed to reach a consensus, and appear to be drifting further apart.

The King had on Tuesday decreed that each of BN’s federal lawmakers were to be interviewed at the Palace on Wednesday morning but the coalition had sought to postpone the audiences.

Gabungan Parti Sarawak secretary-general Alexander Nanta Linggi leaving the palace after a meeting on Nov 23, 2022. PHOTO: BERNAMA

Former premier Muhyiddin claimed on Tuesday evening that he had the backing of 115 MPs, reaching the simple majority mark of 112. This ostensibly included members of BN, whose leadership insisted then that all its MPs remained neutral.

But well-placed sources have told ST that even as at Tuesday, as many as 11 BN MPs had declared support for Mr Muhyiddin, which would be sufficient to take him past the simple majority mark of 112.

PH won 82 seats in last Saturday’s vote, making it the largest coalition. And while PN took just 73, parties from east Malaysia - including 23 from GPS and six from Gabungan Rakyat Sabah - would supply at least another 29, bringing Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Muhyiddin across the 100-mark.

However, since initially pledging their 23 MPs to PN chairman Muhyiddin, GPS leaders have said they would abide by the King’s decision, including trying to work out a unity government.

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