KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's senior minister Azmin Ali announced on Saturday (Aug 22) that he and 10 other MPs will be joining Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's political party, a move that should strengthen Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia amid continuing political turbulence in the country.
The group of 11 federal lawmakers had been partiless in the last five months after leaving Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) following a bitter power tussle with its president, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Their decision to formally join Bersatu was made on Saturday.
"Sincerely, on this sacred evening, myself and the 'warriors' from Perlis to Sabah... hereby declare to join Bersatu. We support the leadership of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin," Datuk Seri Azmin said in a speech at a congress attended by the PM Muhyiddin in Kuala Lumpur.
"Now is the time to 'bersatu' (unite). Bersatu for the nation. Bersatu for Malaysia," he said to rousing cheers from the meeting hall which was filled with some 2,500 supporters.
Three of the 11 ex-PKR MPs are Cabinet ministers in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government - Senior Minister for Economy Azmin, Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin and Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.
Their decision to join Bersatu raises its total number of its lawmakers to 32.
The years-long feud between Mr Azmin, the former PKR deputy president, and Mr Anwar had steadily built up over the years and turned personal after a viral sex video allegedly involving Mr Azmin with another man made its rounds in June last year. Mr Azmin and his faction blamed the Anwar faction for the video, which they said was fake.
Mr Anwar had said Mr Azmin should resign if he was indeed one of the two men featured in the video, which prompted the latter to tell his former boss to "look in the mirror". Mr Anwar had twice gone to jail over claims of having sex with men, a crime in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
The February defection of the 11 MPs combined with the defection of most Bersatu lawmakers caused the collapse of the 22-month old Pakatan Harapan (PH) government led by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
"We were headed for trouble two years ago (when PH won the general election). Our roles were supposed to be different, we were supposed to care for the people, but we were busy bickering on who should be the next prime minister," said Madam Zuraida in her speech, referring to tensions in PH between Tun Dr Mahathir and Mr Anwar.
"In our crisis to decide on who to back... we made the right choice by supporting Tan Sri Muhyiddin as PM," she added.
At the congress, Bersatu president Mr Muhyiddin revealed that the Malay-based party is proposing a new chapter to accommodate and allow non-Malay leaders to contribute and hold positions in the party. A committee led by supreme council member Rais Yatim has been formed to look into the process.
"We propose a new chapter that could help affiliated members contribute ideas and hold leadership positions. The committee under Tan Sri Rais will look into it and bring up the matter to the Supreme Council," he said in his speech.
Should the proposal be accepted, Mr Muhyiddin said an extraordinary general meeting would be called to amend Bersatu's constitution.
Bersatu today faces two major challenges.
One is defections from its ranks to a new party being formed by Dr Mahathir, Parti Pejuang Tanah Air.
The other is being accepted fully by its enemies-turned-allies in Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
Though both Umno and PAS are in the same PN government today, there remains suspicions between all three allied parties five months into their political marriage.
This is partly due to the fact that of the 32 Bersatu MPs, 14 were lawmakers who defected from Umno and another 11 were from PKR.
Meanwhile, PM Muhyiddin in his speech at the congress said about 200,000 youths from four non-govermental organisations (NGOs) have applied to be members of Bersatu.
"We accepted all the applications officially for them to be party members, and the party is honoured to accept them, " he said.
"The party has agreed to accept all their applications and will process their memberships as soon as possible.
"This is a functional government. There must be unity by us all, and it is on this basis that we ensure that Perikatan Nasional works".
The congress was organised by four NGOs backed by Mr Azmin and included many former members of PKR.