FIRST, it was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad – Pakatan Harapan trusted him and let the old fox into the henhouse, allowing him full run of the coop and standing aside while feathers flew hither and thither.

After becoming prime minister in May 2018, he destroyed unity within PH with well-hammered wedges between DAP and PKR, and between Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali’s camp and the rest of PKR.

His calculated appointment of DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng as finance minister without consulting PKR earned him the undying loyalty of DAP – for a while, at least. 

And then, he brought Azmin into the cabinet, positioning the ex-PKR No. 2 against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

These moves strengthened Dr Mahathir’s position, giving him control despite his former party, Bersatu, having won only 13 seats in the 14th general election in 2018. PKR had 48 seats, and DAP, 42.

Dr Mahathir plotted the Sheraton Move 13 months ago, and a proposed unity cabinet that was his downfall, allowing Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to take power via an alliance with PAS and Umno. Dr Mahathir faded away with a few MPs, and even fewer later with the formation of Pejuang and the defection of other lawmakers.

Not long after Sheraton, Anwar announced, and he does so even now, that he has the majority in Parliament with some Umno members. But, that did not materialise as he was denied the opportunity to show his numbers to the Agong.

Budget 2021 was passed after Bersatu acceded to Umno’s demands over some aspects of the spending plan – notably, the unprecedented withdrawals from Employees Provident Fund (EPF) savings.

It was as clear as day that Umno wanted elections given the feel-good factor of cash in hand for millions of EPF members, and the perceived increase in support from Malays, which may or may not be true.

PH, too, did not oppose the much-needed Budget to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and mend a fracturing economy.

As Anwar put it, it would not have been the responsible thing to do – playing politics when lives were at stake.

But, Bersatu was not so willing to have elections. Muhyiddin would like to serve until the next elections, which are due in 2023. Therefore, the pact between Bersatu and Umno is falling apart.

Now, Umno has said it will not partner with Bersatu in the next elections, and Muhyiddin is busy adding to his numbers by inducing defections.

Great news for PH, right? Umno and Bersatu competing against each other means split votes from the conservative section of the Malay populace, and better chances for PH – it can use the old winning formula of splitting the Malay vote, and getting solid support from non-Malays.

Umno is courting PH again, but probably, the reason is to force elections by destabilising the current backdoor government, which is digging in by encouraging defections from all sides.

PH is responding to Umno’s overtures; Anwar is talking about cooperating with Umno, even for a general election, instead of pressing home with a re-energised PH. For all you know, Umno may have trouble with PAS, too, in terms of seat division, which can only be positive for PH.

Umno and Bersatu competing against each other means split votes from the conservative section of the Malay populace – and better chances for Pakatan. – The Vibes file pic, March 19, 2021
Umno and Bersatu competing against each other means split votes from the conservative section of the Malay populace – and better chances for Pakatan. – The Vibes file pic, March 19, 2021

At his press conference on Tuesday, Anwar said he still has an “adequate majority” in Parliament, adding that the talks with Umno are preliminary, and no agreement has yet been reached.

Obviously, the mystery of the numbers can be easily resolved if Muhyiddin allows the reconvening of Parliament.

It could be better if no agreement was reached. PH coalition partners DAP and Amanah are not happy. Just when things are falling into place for PH, and falling apart for Bersatu and Umno – and perhaps, PAS – the wrong decision should not be made. 

Here are 10 reasons why PH should not work with Umno:

1. Umno cannot be trusted. Umno has a long history of not being trustworthy. Its leaders have swayed in the wind, spineless like lalang, not having the courage to stand up for what is right, just and equitable. Their untrustworthiness has extended to recent times as outlined above.

2. Many Umno MPs are corrupt. Many Umno divisions received funds from 1Malaysia Development Bhd, with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission reported in June 2019 to have filed 1MDB civil forfeiture suits against 41 respondents, seeking RM212 million from Umno divisions.

Many Umno officials are facing criminal charges, including former president Datuk Seri Najib Razak and current chief Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

3. Umno was responsible for 1MDB. Umno, by commission and omission, was responsible for 1MDB. The party’s president then was responsible for robbing 1MDB, it was alleged, and despite overwhelming evidence, other Umno leaders did not do anything about it.

4. Umno defended Najib when it was obvious 1MDB was being robbed. In order to protect themselves, these leaders refused to make a move against Najib. These are the same leaders PH will deal with.

5. PH will betray the people. It asked for and received the mandate to get rid of Umno. It will be a clear betrayal of the people if the coalition goes back and work with the very individuals who were directly or indirectly responsible for the robbery of tens of billions of ringgit from Malaysia, and all manner of Malaysian woes.

6. PH will lose the moral high ground. PH came out with a manifesto that promised extensive reforms to ensure Malaysia would no longer be ravaged by irresponsible leaders. The answer was checks and balances within the system. To now go back and work with the same people PH was against is to lose the moral high ground and to become one of them.

7. PH can win the elections without Umno. With Umno now in the midst of its own problems and unravelling its ties with Bersatu, there is a real chance of split votes. This may be aggravated further if Umno has problems coming to an agreement with PAS over seats. All that is good for PH’s prospects.

8. PH can rebuild again without any baggage. If no alliances are made with dubious people and groups, PH, in the next elections, has the opportunity to build upwards from the bottom by taking in able people with a proven track record of integrity, giving it a better chance of implementing reform and change without the old baggage and trickery.

9. PH will have people who won’t party-hop. By working on its own, and focusing on its core three parties of PKR, DAP and Amanah, the coalition will hopefully have people who are far less likely to hop. This is especially so if the leadership sets aims, and how these will be achieved are clearly identified and communicated to party leaders.

10. PH can lead Malaysia forward again. By going back to the basics of reform and change, and working to achieve an improved Malaysia for everyone under the Malaysian sun, PH can lead us out of the climate of pessimism and despair by injecting hope and optimism through considered plans and action.

You have to be unwaveringly on the straight and narrow if you want to be on the side of good. – The Vibes, March 19, 2021 

P. Gunasegaram says those who come to power on the backs of tigers are liable to be eaten. He is editorial consultant of The Vibes and executive director of advocacy organisation Sekhar Institute