KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Barisan Nasional will remain intact - for now - after a meeting of key leaders of the multiracial opposition alliance ended on Friday (March 8) with no consensus on whether it should disband.
"The meeting doesn't have a consensus to dissolve BN," BN acting chairman Mohamad Hasan said after the alliance's first meeting since it was toppled from power in last year's general election. The coalition is “very much intact”, he added.
The meeting was called days after the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) threatened to break away from the decades-old alliance, which has been dominated by the Malay-oriented Umno or United Malays National Organisation.
MCA and MIC - two of the three founding member parties of BN - said they were looking at forming a new alliance and were "moving on" from Umno.
Cracks had appeared after the alliance lost power in the May 9 election.
But the trigger for MCA's and MIC's breakaway bid appeared to be recent "racist" comments by senior Umno leader Nazri Aziz, who is also secretary-general of BN.
During the recent Semenyih by-election campaign, Datuk Seri Nazri said non-Malays should not question Malay privileges, as non-Malays also enjoyed special privileges such as their own vernacular schools.
Mr Nazri also questioned the appointments of non-Malays as the government's Attorney-General, Chief Justice and Finance Minister, Malaysian media reported. He reportedly said Malay rights should be defended at all costs.
BN succeeded in winning the Malay-dominated Semenyih seat in Selangor state, a stronghold of the Pakatan Harapan government, last weekend.
At the meeting on Friday, Datuk Mohamad said Mr Nazri has been replaced by former BN secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor. Mr Mohamad said Mr Nazri's appointment as BN's sec-gen did not have the consent of the MCA and MIC, and Tengku Adnan will thus continue with his former role.
Meanwhile earlier this week, Umno appeared to move further away from MCA and MIC by formalising its long-standing cooperation pact with Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), bringing together the two biggest parties representing Malaysia’s majority community.
But after the BN meeting on Friday, Mr Mohamad said Umno and MIC did not see a need to dissolve the coalition. He said the breakup was the idea of MCA President Wee Ka Siong.
Umno has 38 MPs in the federal Parliament while MCA and MIC have only one seat each. PAS has 18 MPs.
Umno and PAS combined hold 56, or a quarter of the 222 seats in Parliament.
These figures could have held back the MCA and MIC from breaking away despite their earlier threat, as without large partners the two parties could shrink further in the political landscape.
BN was originally called Parti Perikatan or Alliance Party, and it was formed by Umno, MCA and MIC in 1957.
BN took its current name in 1973 following the 1969 race riots, with other parties joining the original three founding members. BN had as many as 14 member parties at the height of its influence in the 1990s.
Perikatan, and later BN, ruled Malaysia from independence, for 61 years, until last May when it was toppled from power by the Pakatan Harapan alliance.
BN today is left with only the three original founding members after the other component parties left. The alliance is wracked with tensions over its direction.
Umno leaders are keen to work closely with PAS, but the Islamist party's vision to turn Malaysia into a strict Islamic state have alienated the MCA and MIC, which claim to protect the rights of the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
The loose Umno-PAS alliance's triumphs in two recent by-elections - in Cameron Highlands, Pahang, and Semenyih - have only strengthened their bond.