KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) has lost a third lawmaker within three weeks, after its vice-president and former Cabinet minister Xavier Jayakumar quit the party on Saturday (March 13).
Datuk Xavier has declared his support for the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government as an independent.
Though he has been with PKR since its early days in 1998, Mr Xavier said he had grown "extremely frustrated" by events over the past year amid calls to hold an election, which he described as unnecessary during an ongoing pandemic.
"Our current priority should be to support the government in containing the Covid-19 pandemic, to create jobs, and to secure funds to rebuild the economy," he said in a statement. He was minister of water, land and natural resources when the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition won power in the May 2018 general election
"It will take at least 18 months just to complete the vaccination programme, and more than two years for the economy to fully recover. The people want stability, and to restart our ailing economic sectors. Towards this, we need to work together, not against one another."
With his resignation, the PKR has lost a third MP in just three weeks, raising questions over what had been going on behind the scenes.
Two other PKR MPs - Mr Larry Sng and Mr Steven Choong - withdrew from the party at the end of last month, pledging instead to support Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
PKR, led then by Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, won 48 parliamentary seats in the last general election in 2018, but following recent defections, it now has 35 seats.
The party is now led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
The presidential council of the opposition PH coalition, of which PKR is a component party, had earlier this month accused PN of using enforcement agencies to pressure opposition lawmakers into defecting, ahead of the resumption of Parliament.
Under the state of emergency declared on Jan 12, and which is expected to last until Aug 1, or earlier if the Covid-19 pandemic is brought under control, parliamentary sittings have been suspended.
"Any abuse of institutions or agencies with the intention of harassing, oppressing or intimidating political enemies is not acceptable. We believe this has been done to many including Lim Guan Eng and his wife, Larry Sng, Steven Choong, and now indirectly to Xavier Jayakumar," the PH council said in a statement.
Apart from PKR, the other two PH members are the Democratic Action Party which is led by Mr Lim, and Parti Amanah Negara.
Last month, Perak PKR deputy chairman M. A. Tinagaran, whom Mr Xavier described as "a close family friend", was arrested by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) over allegations of graft.
"In a recent media report, my name was implicated, and it has brought prejudice against me as an elected representative," Mr Xavier had said in a statement at the time.
"Acting on the advice of my family and friends, I am here to clear my name with the authorities. Leaders tied to corruption must be accountable to preserve the integrity of our institution and we are responsible to show good governance."
"M. A. Tinagaran is not an aide of mine as falsely reported, but a close family friend," he said.
PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution in a statement on Saturday claimed: "Dr Xavier was apparently contacted later by a senior (Perikatan Nasional) minister who told (him) that he needed to support Perikatan or face serious repercussions."
He added that Mr Xavier had informed the PKR leadership that MACC made him a "target" of investigations, and had arrested his political secretary, personal aide and other acquaintances.
Datuk Seri Saifuddin alleged that these were part of efforts by the government to gain support from opposition MPs by using the police, Inland Revenue Board and MACC.
The MACC on March 7 "vehemently" denied being used as a political weapon, saying it is an independent agency.
"Such allegations were unfounded and irresponsible, and could tarnish our reputation," MACC said in a statement, in response to allegations made by the PH presidential council on March 5 that the PN adminitration is misusing government agencies to pressure opposition MPs to shore up the PN government.
Meanwhile, the defections of the three PKR lawmakers might have restored the majority of the PN government.
PN became a minority government on Jan 12 after two Umno MPs withdrew their support, leaving it with only 109 seats in the 222-seat Parliament. Two of the 222 seats are currently vacant.
The addition of Mr Xavier, Mr Sng and Mr Choong would restore PN's slim majority to 112 MPs, if nothing else changes.
Malaysia's Senior Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali tweeted on Saturday, soon after the announcement of Mr Xavier's defection: "1+1+1+...... and so on. Alhamdulillah (God be praised). Stay calm."
Mr Azmin is from Prime Minister Muhyddin Yassin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).
Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu, Bersatu's deputy president, said he expects to see more defections.
"There's a few more who want to join us, especially from opposition parties. They will join nearer to the general election," he told reporters in Perak, as quoted by The Star daily.
Later, Umno leader Annuar Musa, the Federal Territories Minister in PN said: "I understand that there are another seven to eight more MPs who have indicated that they are ready to support the government.
"Most importantly, if this government performs, then more will be prepared to support us."