KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's largest party Umno has insisted it will not be a member of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) alliance despite being a part of his government, and will instead focus on the Malay-Muslim pact it has with Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
This comes just two days after Umno's former premier Najib Razak was convicted on seven counts of graft related to the 1MDB scandal.
The conviction has raised concerns over the stability of the government, as former premier Najib remains widely influential in Umno, which supplies the most MPs to the Muhyiddin administration.
Umno president Zahid Hamidi said on Thursday (July 30) that the party has decided "not to join PN, but instead empower Muafakat Nasional with PAS and Barisan Nasional (BN) components".
BN is the long-ruling multiracial coalition led by Umno that was shockingly ousted in the 2018 general election.
Zahid, himself facing a raft of corruption charges, said "our support to PN governments is only via the BN lawmakers in the federal government and several state governments".
He also revealed PM Muhyiddin had said his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) intends to join Muafakat Nasional (MN) during a meeting with BN parliamentarians on Wednesday.
Although Bersatu's entry into MN must be discussed with PAS, it signalled a concession from Tan Sri Muhyiddin after Tuesday's High Court guilty verdicts against Najib which angered a large segment of Umno supporters.
"The reality after the Najib verdict backlash is that Muhyiddin needs the backing of Umno and PAS," an Umno leader told The Straits Times.
But PN sources disclosed that the premier has not abandoning efforts to formalise PN ahead of polls, expected as soon as the end of the year, despite a ballot not being due until late 2023.
"The plan is to go ahead regardless of Umno. Wait for the announcement on PN. Registration is done," a top official said, adding that PAS has been amenable to being a registered member of PN.
Seat negotiations are heating up ahead of expected snap elections aimed at ending political instability stemming from Mr Muhyiddin's narrow parliamentary majority of 113 out of 222 MPs, the slimmest any Malaysian government has had.
Umno, Bersatu and PAS representatives met last week to begin duking out overlapping claims in at least a quarter of constituencies dominated by the Malay majority.
In Bersatu's view, joining MN would provide a clear platform for these negotiations while still pursuing PN as the flagship coalition to seek a new term for its president, Mr Muhyiddin.
Despite its firm stance against becoming a member of PN, Umno leaders have become more amenable towards an extended reign for Mr Muhyiddin so long as the party's interests are protected.
Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan said last week that Umno could review the 2016 decision to sack Mr Muhyiddin - a staunch critic of 1MDB while in government - when Najib was president.
"He (Muhyiddin) will be a Prime Minister backed by the largest party with the most MPs... There will be no problems facing a general election, for example in the aspect of seat allocations," he said.
Umno's advisory council chief Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who is also the party's longest-serving MP, also said "handicapped leaders" such as Najib and Zahid who are facing graft charges should make way and sacrifice "just for awhile, one term is only five years".