The fight for Bersatu’s soul

  • It's Just Politics
  • Sunday, 24 May 2020

The positions some lawmakers took during the recent abbreviated Parliament sitting has raised urgent questions within the party.

SOME sort of history was created when five Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia MPs sat on the Opposition bench while 31 of the party’s parliamentarians were positioned with the government.

The unusual but not unexpected seating arrangement confirmed who was openly supporting Langkawi MP Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who might or might not be Bersatu chairman. They were Jerlun MP and Bersatu deputy president Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, Muar MP and Bersatu Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, Simpang Renggam MP Maszlee Malik and Kubang Pasu MP Datuk Amiruddin Hamzah.

The party is split, according to one of its supreme council members, Tariq Ismail: It’s those who hold to the party’s original position of fighting kleptocrats and offering a better alternative to Umno versus opportunists.

But Wan Saiful Wan Jan, another supreme council member, contends that the split isn’t about principles.

“Tun Mahathir is taking it to a personal level where it is no longer about the direction the country is going in and how we can serve the country. It is more about him wanting to win, ” he said.

“I can understand that he feels the party has rejected his views. But it was only one view that we rejected. Everything else in the party... we recognise him as a visionary figure in Malaysian politics.”

The view Team Mahathir and Team Muhyiddin have clashed over, according to Wan Saiful, is how best to capture the Malay electorate. He explained that Bersatu is a party with a Malay base and the reality was that under Pakatan Harapan, Bersatu had no real future as Pakatan was not seen as the best way to protect and serve the Malay agenda.

“So we had to make a choice: whether to stick with Pakatan or change the strategy so that we can put us in a better position in terms of an election outcome, ” said Wan Saiful.

He said the majority of Bersatu’s supreme council members decided that the better position was to be with Perikatan Nasional.

“Tun Mahathir’s stand was to trust him fully and allow more time in Pakatan, ” he said.

In a Facebook posting on Friday, Tariq wrote that Bersatu was not formed merely to overthrow the government of Datuk Seri Najib Razak: “Bersatu was established as the party of choice for Malays who emphasise budaya maruah Melayu (cultural dignity of the Malays) and not ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy), ” he said.

The five MPs who sat on the Opposition bench, however, insist that Bersatu should be in Pakatan, Wan Saiful said. But there are questions they need to answer, he said. For example, they insist that Bersatu should be in Pakatan – so who will become Prime Minister under a new government? PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim? If it is Dr Mahathir, then why has Pakatan not made him Opposition leader? If it is Dr M, will he stick to his promise to only stay till after the Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in November? That means he would be PM for five months, so what happens next, Wan Saiful asked.

At the moment, there are no clear answers to these questions, Wan Saiful pointed out.

“It is all about toppling Muhyi-ddin. It is very personal. And if you ask them, ‘Why are you doing this?’, they’ll say because they are following Tun. You can’t run a country by following an individual. There must be something bigger than what they are fighting for, ” he said.

On the government side, Wan Saiful said the direction is obvious. Bersatu is leading the Perikatan government along with two big Malay parties, Umno and PAS. And, “That is quite a comfortable position for parties that are ethnic-based, ” he said.

On whether Bersatu should be with Pakatan or Perikatan, Tariq said the party should live in honour and stick to what it had agreed. He was referring to his party’s agreement to form the Pakatan coalition with DAP, PKR and Amanah in September 2015.

However, the political reality, Wan Saiful said, is that Malays are not ready for Pakatan’s political model: “This is the failure of Pakatan. I kept on saying that Pakatan cannot afford to ignore Malay sentiment and Pakatan couldn’t afford to continue to be led by the ‘Bangsar bubble’. But Paka-tan continued to ignore Malay sentiment on the ground, ” he said. (“Bangsar bubble” refers to urban Malay political views.)

Wan Saiful feels the Pakatan political model is not sustainable as it created an unstable political coalition.

Will Bersatu sack the five MPs who sat with the Opposition or (as Datuk Marzuki Yahaya, who might or might not be the party’s secretary-general, clarified) on the independent bench?

Tariq said the rebels would continue to sit on the Opposition bench. He believed that Team Muhyiddin will do everything it can to punish them. It is ironic, he said, that the “punisher” will be someone who joined Bersatu after his party, Umno, was defeated in GE14 in 2018. He was referring to Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin, who might or might not be Bersatu secretary-general.

Wan Saiful contends that Bersatu has to take a stand on whether it can tolerate its MPs sitting on a different bench.

“No party in the world would allow its MPs to sit on a bench that belongs to a different party. But if the five MPs want to sit on the independent bench, then we must respect that, and they should choose to resign from the party and become independent, ” he said.

Based on the Bersatu constitution, Wan Saiful said, it is clear that when a member doesn’t serve the party’s interest, then his membership becomes questionable.

Tariq doesn’t think Bersatu president Muhyiddin wants the five rebels to be sacked. But he doesn’t rule out other leaders in the party agitating for them to be kicked out.

If that happens, history would be repeating itself for Dr Mahathir and Mukhriz who had to leave Umno in 2015.

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Philip Golingai , Anwar , Mahathir , Bersatu ,


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