Malaysia’s UMNO party, part of the ruling coalition, has said that it will not cooperate with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in the next general election and will contest the election alone. However, analysts believe that the approach is not practical as it could cost the party and won’t be enough to bring it back to power.
By Umair Jamal
The United Malays National Organization (UMNO), one of main coalition partners in Malaysia’s current government, has announced it will part ways with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s alliance in the next general election.
For months, UMNO has squared with Muhyiddin for not offering the party a prominent role in the current ruling setup. On many occasions, UMNO has threatened to withdraw support for Muhyiddin’s government but so far it has not followed through.
Muhyiddin, who came to power a year ago, retains a slim majority in the parliament. In January, he declared a state of emergency in Malaysia, a move which his critics say is aimed at keeping him in power.
Analysts believe UMNO’s plan to go it alone in the next general election is not a practical move and could hurt the party’s chances to return to power.
UMNO lays down plans for the next general election
On March 28, UMNO’s annual general assembly finally approved its leadership’s decision to contest the next general election in opposition to Muhyiddin’s party.
“The delegates have given the mandate to the president and supreme council to withdraw support for the PN [Perikatan Nasional] government,” UMNO chief Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said in a statement.
UMNO’s chief has further clarified that his party will contest the next election in cooperation with the Barisan Nasional alliance, which it leads, and will not make an alliance with any other political party.
“We will not be part of Perikatan Nasional as a party. This resolution is final,” Zahid said at the party’s annual assembly.
However, UMNO has hinted at making alliance with other political parties after the polls have taken place.
“This political reset is related to national stability. Today, instability is pushing us deeper into economic fiasco,” said Zahid. “Although no negotiation has taken place with any party yet… UMNO is very open to do so after GE15. First, UMNO must be dominant to be relevant.”
Can UMNO win if it contests the next general election alone?
Political analysts believe that UMNO’s plan to run on its own the next general election is not a wise move and may undermine the Malay party’s electoral prospects.
For instance, if UMNO goes it alone, it’s going to compete with a number of major political leaders and parties that also vie for the vote of the ethnic Malay majority. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, former Prime Ministers Najib Razak and Mahathir Mohammad and current Prime Minister Muhyiddin will be among the other key contenders for the same Malay votes.
More importantly, UMNO’s underlying tensions with the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which is also part of the current ruling coalition, may pit the two parties against each other when it comes to the Malay vote.
Ei Sun, a political scientist at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, argues that conflict with PAS could prove disastrous for UMNO. He told Malay Mail that UMNO can benefit considerably if its cuts some form of deal with PAS as that could prove crucial in dealing with challenges from other parties and leaders.
“UMNO is still very influential despite the emergence of Bersatu [the Malaysian United Indigenous Party]. UMNO’s vow to go alone is with regards to Bersatu and PH, but is not necessarily directed at PAS,” he said.
“PAS is wooed by both UMNO and Bersatu as its electoral mobilization machinery is legendary and could benefit whomever is its ally. At the least, UMNO would not like to face PAS again as it did in 2018, which cost UMNO the election,” he added.
UMNO’s tensions with PAS in the 2018 general election are considered one of the major reasons for the party’s defeat. In 2018, the parties together garnered 75% of all Malay votes, according to one analysis. If both parties still manage to get the same percentage of votes in 2021, this could be enough to put UMNO in power if it forms an alliance with PAS.
Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, senior analyst at the political risk and public policy consultancy Vriens and Partners, believes that without PAS’s support it is unlikely that UMNO can make a strong comeback.
“While there is some uncertainty surrounding the pulse of voters and whether they have an appetite for a new government, what is certain is that UMNO is no longer the behemoth it still considers itself to be,” Kamal told Malay Mail.
“A best case scenario would see UMNO winning the same number of seats it won in GE14, but this still would not be enough to form a government,” he added. “UMNO will likely need to align with other political parties after GE15 and given their stance against Bersatu, this leaves UMNO with Pakatan Harapan and PAS.”