KUALA LUMPUR - Members of a new party called Parti Bangsa Malaysia (PBM) are signalling a split within former premier Muhyiddin Yassin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and the larger Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition that he leads.
Made up of two MPs and several state assemblymen, PBM has stated its intention to join the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN), which is expected to go head-to-head with PN in the next general election.
On Saturday (Jan 8), PBM announced its leadership, which includes at least three former Bersatu members and several other elected representatives who never formally joined Bersatu but nevertheless remained pro-PN and pro-Bersatu.
All were once members of Pakatan Harapan (PH), which is made up mainly of the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) led by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Most of those in PBM were aligned to Senior Minister Azmin Ali who bolted from PH in early 2020, leading to the collapse of the PH government which was eventually replaced by one led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin and PN.
Mr Larry Sng, MP for Julau ward in Sarawak who quit PKR last year, is heading PBM. Madam Haniza Talha, a state assemblyman for Lembah Jaya in Selangor who was formerly PKR women's chief, is deputy party leader.
Both Mr Sng and Madam Haniza remained as independents after leaving PKR.
Tebrau MP Steven Choong, who is also a former PKR member and known to be aligned to Mr Azmin, is another PBM member. He, too, remained as an independent after leaving PKR.
Mr Azmin, who is senior minister in charge of trade and industry, is still a member of Mr Muhyiddin's Bersatu, but both he and another former PKR leader in the current Cabinet, Madam Zuraida Kamaruddin, had long been linked to the formation of the new party.
PBM was established as a multiracial party late last year following a name change. It was formerly known as Sarawak Workers Party and was founded by Mr Sng's father, Datuk Sng Chee Hua, a prominent businessman and former politician in the East Malaysian state.
Three former DAP representatives from Perak - two of whom had previously joined Bersatu - have also switched to PBM. The two former Bersatu members - Mr Paul Yong and Mr Sivasubramaniam Athinarayanan - had no voting rights and limited opportunities in Bersatu as it is a Malay-based party.
"I chose PBM because it is truly multiracial," Mr Yong said on Sunday. Mr Yong, who was appointed treasurer-general of PBM, is currently facing rape charges and was ordered by the Hight Court to enter his defence last month.
A group of 10 PKR MPs led by Mr Azmin became members of Bersatu in 2020, but the possibility of a new multiracial party remained in the background as all the defectors came from PKR, which was a multiracial party as opposed to Bersatu, a splinter of Umno.
PBM was formed two months after Mr Muhyiddin resigned as prime minister in August. He quit as he had lost his parliamentary majority. Umno's Ismail Sabri Yaakob succeeded Mr Muhyiddin, leading a government with an identical support base as his predecessor in Parliament.
The Umno-led BN comfortably defeated PN when both battled each other in the Melaka state election in November. BN won a two-thirds majority against PN, which was established only in 2020 by Mr Muhyiddin and managed to secure a mere three seats.
Analysts said the lack of opportunities within Bersatu likely motivated the move by the new PBM leaders, and that Mr Azmin and Madam Zuraida might be "testing the waters".
University of Malaya sociopolitical analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi told The Straits Times: "This would not have a big impact on the national political landscape. It will only cause more disunity among parties, leading to there being no dominant party in the next elections."
Bersatu played down the impact of the defections, but Dr Awang believes the party would now struggle for survival in the next general election.
Dr Awang also played down the chances of PBM being part of the BN coalition, although PBM might look at BN as the most secure coalition umbrella right now, given its recent electoral performances.
"It is quite difficult for BN to accept them, what with the baggage that some PBM leaders have," he said.
Dr Awang also said Mr Sng - who won the Julau seat in the 2018 elections as an independent - would be better off defending his seat as an independent rather than with PBM because of the prevalent sentiment in Sarawak towards Sarawak-based parties.
The Sarawak-based Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) coalition swept 76 out of the 82 seats at stake in last month's state polls. Mr Sng is not part of GPS, which supports the current administration in Kuala Lumpur. Both BN and PN stayed out of the Sarawak polls.