The Malaysian authorities yesterday ordered former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's year-old party to halt its activities, on the cusp of the general election.
Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM)'s temporary deregistration order came a day before Parliament is widely expected to be dissolved, and was criticised by the party as an "abuse of power".
The Registrar of Societies (ROS) said the party had failed to submit documents and details on its annual general meeting in December last year, as requested by the registrar. PPBM has 30 days to fulfil the ROS request, failing which it will be disbanded permanently. It can also appeal against the order.
In the meantime, PPBM is not allowed to use its logo or conduct any party activity. This could hobble PPBM at the polls, as it will not be able to campaign using its own logo or solicit for funds.
PPBM is part of Pakatan Harapan (PH), a four-party opposition alliance that also faces hurdles at the ROS, which has refused to register PH as a formal 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.
Tun Dr Mahathir yesterday blamed Prime Minister Najib Razak for the ROS move.
"In order to win the elections, he has ordered my party Bersatu to be declared illegal. I am not allowed to identify myself with the illegal party," Dr Mahathir told reporters.
PPBM supreme council member Wan Saiful Wan Jan said: "The deregistration order is an abuse of power by a regime that is desperate to stay in office."
PPBM is a key member to draw in the rural Malay vote - seen as a decisive factor to win the 2018 polls - for the alliance.
Sources told The Straits Times that in anticipation of the authorities declaring either PH or PPBM illegal ahead of the polls, the opposition alliance will announce today that it will campaign and contest under the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) banner.
PKR was formed by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim two decades ago, after he was sacked by Dr Mahathir as deputy prime minister.
The Straits Times understands that only the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) had reservations about using the PKR logo prior to an emergency PH leadership meeting yesterday.
But DAP leaders have conceded that while it will have to work to allay concerns from its grassroots, this is a necessary gambit to swing the crucial Malay vote.
"We have met and we have decided to use a common logo. This isn't an easy decision for the party, but DAP agrees to use a common logo," DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng told a news conference yesterday.
A former premier joining the opposition, and quickly taking over its leadership, is unprecedented in Malaysia. The 92-year-old Dr Mahathir was himself the target of an Umno exodus in 1998, after Anwar, now in jail for a controversial 2009 sodomy conviction, was sacked as his deputy. The 1998 sacking sparked the "Reformasi" movement and the establishment of PKR.
"We are about to witness the climax of realpolitik when Tun Dr Mahathir contests in the election under the Keadilan logo," said PKR grassroots leader Najwan Halimi.
Malaysia's Cabinet will meet this morning, likely for the last time before Parliament is dissolved.