PUTRAJAYA (BERNAMA) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has addressed concerns that defecting Umno MPs will be freely admitted into his party to bolster his administration's majority in Parliament, saying their applications will be closely vetted and that he personally prefers to have a strong opposition.
Tun Dr Mahathir, who chairs Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and the ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), said it will not be "a walk in the park" for former Umno members looking to join PPBM, as their applications will be scrutinised and their behaviour observed to see if they fit in with the party.
"We are accepting only those leaders who are not implicated and who have not shown very strong support for Najib," he said, referring to former prime minister Najib Razak, who used to be Umno president and currently faces criminal charges for corruption and money laundering.
"Some of them were cursing Pakatan Harapan and calling me names, and all that. Those people we cannot accept. It is not just freely coming into Bersatu. They have to be scrutinised to see whether they qualify or not," Dr Mahathir told news agency Bernama in an interview published on Wednesday (Dec 19).
Former ruling party Umno won 54 of 222 parliamentary seats in the general election in May, but has since seen 17 of its lawmakers leave the party to become independents or members of other parties within the PH coalition.
Dr Mahathir said PPBM had imposed certain conditions on the former Umno members before they could join the party.
"You must leave Umno and become independent for a short while, and during that time, you must show you are supportive of the PH government, and then you can apply. Or you can apply earlier, but the applications will only be considered after we have observed their behaviour," he said.
He noted however that his party, which currently holds 15 of PH's 118 seats in Parliament, and the ruling coalition could be strengthened by former Umno members who can bring in the Malay vote. A large number of Malays supported Umno in the last general election and the party remained popular, he said.
"We don't want to give the impression that Umno is taking over Bersatu or any other party in PH. We are very serious about vetting these people. They want to come in. I think in the villages they are still influential. If we reject them, we may be rejecting voters. They can bring some voters. It will strengthen Bersatu and PH as well," he said.
On the perception that accepting former Umno MPs is part of PH's strategy to get a two-thirds majority in the Parliament, PM Mahathir said he personally did not like a two-thirds majority government.
"I want a strong opposition. But as you can see, the opposition is totally shattered and everything is broken down. MIC is not functioning, MCA is not functioning. In Sabah, they are not functioning," he said referring to the Malaysian Indian Congress and the Malaysian Chinese Association, both member parties of the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) alliance. Umno recently lost five of its six MPs in Sabah state.
"There is no opposition that is credible at this moment. Even when I was in the government before, when I was head of BN, I used to say we need an opposition because without an opposition, it is like having no mirror to look at yourself. You think you are beautiful, but actually you are very ugly," he said.