Malaysia's Bersatu, Umno at loggerheads again over seat allocations in 13 constituencies

The fight for seats is a key point of tensions between Bersatu and Umno.
The fight for seats is a key point of tensions between Bersatu and Umno.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - After Umno lost the 2018 general election, 15 of its MPs defected to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), the leading party in the governing coalition.

With another general election expected soon, Bersatu wanted to discuss seat allocations with Umno on 13 of these constituencies.

But Umno has insisted it will contest all of these wards, claiming these still belong to the Malay nationalist party.

The fight for these seats is a key point of tensions between Bersatu and Umno, the two leading parties in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) ruling alliance which are often at loggerheads with each other.

Said Bersatu election director Azmin Ali: "What is being disputed are the 13 seats, but we don't have a problem with the balance of 209 seats". There are a total of 222 Parliament seats.

"I didn't say that there's no problem with these 13 seats. But if they (Umno) demand the seats, then let's discuss," Datuk Seri Azmin told Sinar Harian newspaper in a recent interview.

Umno elections director Tajuddin Abdul Rahman also told Sinar Harian: "Umno's stand is to take back all the areas (lost through) defections. So, when we want to take them back, there is no need for discussions."

It was not clear why only 13 of the 15 formerly Umno seats are being disputed.

Malaysia's electoral system allows for a lawmaker from one party to jump to another, without the need for a by-election.

Umno today supports the PN government led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who became president of Bersatu when PN came to power in February 2020 following the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.

But in February, Umno said it won't support PN or Bersatu in the coming polls.

Thus, how Bersatu fares in the election would depend on whether voters pick Umno or the defectors in these constituencies, many of which are long-time Umno seats.

Bersatu won only 13 Parliament seats in the May 2018 elections, with six of the original Bersatu MPs now serving as independents.

The six MPs left the party with former Bersatu chairman Mahathir Mohamad, who was ousted in 2020 from the party he had co-founded with Tan Sri Muhyiddin.

But in a reflection of Malaysia's badly splintered political alliances, four of these six MPs including Tun Dr Mahathir are keen to form a new party, one of them now supports opposition lawmaker Anwar Ibrahim, and the sixth has formed a new party for youth.

Bersatu today has 31 MPs, according to the Malaysian Parliament's official website.

These include the seven original Bersatu MPs, 15 defectors from Umno and nine defectors, including Mr Azmin himself from Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

Umno, which won 54 wards in 2018, now has 38 seats in Parliament.