PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia's Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir has stepped back from his invitation last week for members of all other Malay parties to join his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), saying on Monday (July 8) his intention was to dissuade politicians from forming more Malay-based parties and further splitting the community's vote.
He made the clarification after a two hour-long meeting on Monday with other party leaders in his ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, who were concerned that the move would turn PPBM into a replica of their arch-rival Umno.
Tun Dr Mahathir on Monday admitted that he received flak from colleagues on the PH presidential council after his remarks last week were seen as encouraging Malays, particularly those from Umno, to only join PPBM.
"My colleagues said I was wrong and gave me a lashing,” Dr Mahathir joked at a press conference after the meeting.
"I explained that Malays are not good with politics but keen to become presidents. So they set up parties," he added. "Eventually you have many Malay parties… It's enough with just four parties."
PH comprises Malay-Muslim parties PPBM and Parti Amanah Negara, the multi-racial Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP).
The main Malay opposition parties are former ruling party Umno, which remains the largest political party by membership with over three million members, and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which has 800,000 members.
At a PPBM event last Friday in Johor, Dr Mahathir said that the Malays should be united under one party, drawing consternation from his coalition partners that he was seeking to increase numbers to dominate the PH coalition.
"In the past, I would invite everybody to join Umno but now I would like to invite everybody to join Bersatu," Dr Mahathir had said, as reported by the New Straits Times.
The 93-year-old premier was formerly from Umno. In 2016, he set up PPBM, which then joined the PH alliance that defeated the Umno-led Barisan Nasional at last year's general election.
At the polls, PPBM won 13 seats, a far cry from its partners PKR, which has 50 seats, and DAP which has 42. Since then, PPBM has doubled its seats to 26, after taking in defecting MPs, mainly from Umno.
Dr Mahathir had explained last Friday that having several Malay race-based parties meant the community's support was split between them, causing Malay parties to rely on other political parties to win seats.
On Monday, Dr Mahathir sought to walk back his invite and temper criticism by clarifying that the Malays are free to join any of the four Malay parties.
"You want to join Umno, you join lah. You want to join PAS you can join," he quipped.
"There's no need to have up to 20 (Malay) parties," he said, adding: "Malays must learn that politics is a serious matter. If there are any issues go to these four parties. Don't go open new parties."
When asked if PH would accept more parties into its fold, Dr Mahathir said no.
"If we accept any more parties, candidates for election would be a problem. We don't have that many constituencies. If they come into existing parties that's okay," the premier said.
Both Umno and PAS on Monday declined Dr Mahathir's invitation to join PPBM.