Umno-DAP's unlikely romance in Perak could leave PM Muhyiddin jilted

Pakatan Harapan leaders (from left) DAP Perak chairman Nga Kor Ming, Amanah Perak chairman Asmuni Awi and PKR Perak chairman Farhash Wafa Salvador Rizal Mubarak after an audience with Perak's ruler, Sultan Nazrin Azlan Shah, yesterday. Mr Nga says hi
Pakatan Harapan leaders (from left) DAP Perak chairman Nga Kor Ming, Amanah Perak chairman Asmuni Awi and PKR Perak chairman Farhash Wafa Salvador Rizal Mubarak after an audience with Perak's ruler, Sultan Nazrin Azlan Shah, yesterday. Mr Nga says his party's readiness to cooperate with Umno is mainly to form a clean, multiracial government. PHOTO: BERNAMA

While all eyes were glued to the tabling of Malaysia's crucial budget in early November, the seeds of what could be of greater consequence to the nation's seemingly unending political intrigue were being sown up north.

Perak Menteri Besar Ahmad Faizal Azumu's ouster last Friday, following his failure to win a confidence vote in the state assembly, took nearly six weeks of delicate discussions between his own allies from the Umno state chapter and their counterparts from fierce opposition rivals Democratic Action Party (DAP).

"Up until the day of the motion itself, we weren't sure if Umno would actually pull the trigger," a source from the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, which includes DAP, told The Straits Times.

An Umno lawmaker had tabled the motion, which saw 24 Perak opposition lawmakers from PH and 24 Umno assemblymen voting against Datuk Seri Faizal, who hails from Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

Umno had stewed in anger for months over the Bersatu deputy president's unilateral approach to governing and his attempts to force a schism in the largest member of his administration.

The opposition's natural enmity to a sitting head of government was deepened by the fact that Mr Faizal had defected from PH in March, despite having been their chief minister following the 2018 general election.

The carefully orchestrated confidence vote that toppled Mr Faizal took a long gestation period due to scepticism on both sides at biting the forbidden fruit.

But after their overwhelming success in booting out Mr Faizal - who secured only 10 votes - PH strategists believe it could be the first of three potential phases of cooperation between the unlikely couple who are the two largest parties not just in the Perak legislature, but also the federal Parliament.

The next problem is to set up a stable government as snap polls are undesirable, given Malaysia is still in the midst of its worst wave of coronavirus infections.

An Umno-PH government - it is learnt the three parties in the opposition pact will act en bloc - remains a dark-horse outcome, but it could even lead to an electoral pact in Perak when expected polls are called after the pandemic eases.

Should these two boxes be ticked, it would have national ramifications, potentially breaking up Tan Sri Muhyiddin's already shaky Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact that controls only 112 seats in the 220-strong Parliament.

Just as with Perak, Umno has been disgruntled over having to play second fiddle to Bersatu at the federal level, even to the extent of flirting with backing opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to replace Bersatu chief Mr Muhyiddin.

A PH official told The Straits Times "it would be nearly impossible to take back federal government if PN enters the next election as a united alliance. Whatever the damage we would suffer for working with Umno, at least we have a chance if the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition clashes with the rest of PN".

Those in Datuk Seri Anwar's camp also believe that the ouster of Mr Faizal, and more so a possible deal with Umno to form government, could revive his hopes of a similar outcome at the federal level and end his 22-year wait to become prime minister after being sacked as deputy premier in 1998.

Umno, led by president Zahid Hamidi, has twice been granted an audience by the Perak Palace to present its claim to lead a new government. But the blow to their deputy president has left Bersatu unwilling to back an Umno replacement.

Zahid has said Umno is open to forming government with all parties while Perak DAP chief Nga Kor Ming has repeatedly expressed a willingness to put aside differences in the public interest.

Both Zahid's camp in Umno as well as Perak DAP have suffered backlash internally over their courtship, leading Mr Nga to issue several explanations.

"Perak DAP's readiness to cooperate with Umno proves... scaremongering that DAP is 'anti-Malay or anti-Islam' is completely untrue.

"It must be stressed... the main principle is to form a multiracial government that is clean, with integrity and guided by 'good governance'," said Mr Nga.

Already, the new-found love between these two old foes has been contagious enough for Umno's Johor Chief Minister Hasni Muhammad to unprecedentedly hand opposition assemblymen RM200,000 each for constituency spending, resulting in the state budget being unanimously passed on Sunday.

This is despite his government holding only 29 of the 56 seats in the assembly where Umno and DAP are the largest parties.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2020, with the headline Umno-DAP's unlikely romance in Perak could leave PM Muhyiddin jilted. Subscribe