A new Malaysian opposition alliance called Muafakat Nasional (national consensus), combining the forces of the two largest Malay-Muslim-based opposition parties, will be "formalised" in about six months, Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said yesterday.
"Before May next year, a national-level Muafakat Nasional convention will be held, where Muafakat Nasional will be officiated and formalised," Zahid announced at the end of Umno's four-day annual general assembly, to loud cheers by the nearly 3,000 delegates in the meeting hall.
The two main members of Muafakat Nasional will be Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), whose president Abdul Hadi Awang for the first time attended the opening of Umno's annual meeting on Thursday.
The alliance's other members will be Umno's two allies in the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition - the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). A group of smaller political parties and non-governmental organisations called Friends of BN are also expected to be part of the alliance.
"In Muafakat Nasional, Umno may have found a winning formula to recapture power. If it doesn't break down, the Umno-PAS tie-up has the potential to topple the PH (Pakatan Harapan) government, especially if the ruling coalition is seen to have failed," said senior fellow Yang Razali Kassim of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University. "But the road back to Putrajaya may still be paved with obstacles."
These include the fact that, while in opposition, Umno's finances are tight, there remains lingering suspicion over the loyalty of some of its lawmakers, and three of its top leaders are on trial for corruption - Zahid, BN chief adviser and former premier Najib Razak, and Umno treasurer Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor.
Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan said on Thursday that the party's technical committee is looking into the workings of Muafakat Nasional, with a report due in February.
But in his winding-up speech to the general assembly yesterday, Mr Mohamad also seized the opportunity to caution party members against thinking that Muafakat Nasional would guarantee their return to power.
Together, the parties in Muafakat Nasional will have 58 seats in Parliament, and control of four state assemblies - Pahang and Perlis which are now under Umno, and Kelantan and Terengganu, led by PAS.
The official formation of the alliance was an open secret last week, as Umno's three wings pushed for it at the annual meeting.
The Umno assembly this year was upbeat, compared with the funereal atmosphere last year when the meeting was held just months after the Umno-led BN was ejected from power.