There can be no reconciliation between Bersatu founders Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Muhyiddin Yassin as they continue fighting for control over the party, said senior leaders.
With both veering away in opposite directions, party leaders said the rift between the duo has split the party ahead of its crucial internal polls, which were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The outcome of the elections will determine whether Bersatu stays with the Perikatan Nasional (PN) ruling administration or whether it will rejoin Pakatan Harapan (PH), now the opposition.
Dr Mahathir and his supporters want Bersatu to return to PH while Muhyiddin and his faction want to remain with PN.
The quarrel between the two has also resulted in a peculiar situation in which the party president – Muhyiddin – is prime minister while the party’s founding chairman – Dr Mahathir – and his son, deputy president Mukhriz, are sitting in the opposition bloc in the Dewan Rakyat, along with three other party leaders.
Bersatu supreme council member Muhammad Faiz Naaman told The Malaysian Insight the split has also culminated in there being three factions in the party – those aligned to Dr Mahathir, those behind Muhyiddin and a third group who want both to reconcile.
“There are still many grassroots members who are confused as Dr Mahathir continues to issue statements that contradict the stand of the supreme council,” said Faiz.
He said there is little chance the two figures will patch things up, given that both want to take the party in opposite directions.
“Dr Mahathir wants Bersatu to go back to PH while Muhyiddin and the majority of supreme council members want the party to stick with PN,” Faiz told The Malaysian Insight.
Dr Mahathir has also called Muhyiddin a “traitor” for causing the downfall of the PH government back in February.
Muhyiddin had then taken Bersatu and most of its MPs, alongside 10 renegade PKR federal lawmakers, out of PH to form PN with former rivals Umno, PAS, Gabungan Parti Sarawak and a handful of independent Sabah parties.
Muhyiddin was made prime minister while ex-PKR deputy president Mohamed Azmin Ali, who orchestrated the defection, known as the “Sheraton Move”, was made senior minister.
Dr Mahathir’s supporters such as Mukhriz and party youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman have openly and repeatedly criticised Muhyiddin for being part of the Sheraton Move.
“Other leaders in Dr Mahathir’s camp, such as supreme council member Tariq Ismail Mustafa, Ulya Aqamah Husamudin, A Kadir Jasin and Maszlee Malik, have continued to openly criticise Muhyiddin and PN,” Faiz said.
Bersatu’s crisis is historic in that it is the first time in Malaysian politics where MPs from the same party are in both the ruling government and opposition at the same time.
During the one-day Dewan Rakyat sitting on Monday, Dr Mahathir was seated with PH leaders Anwar Ibrahim and Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail in the opposition bench, while Muhyiddin and MPs from his camp were on the government side.
The crisis deepened when the Registrar of Societies (RoS) ruled that Dr Mahathir is no longer Bersatu chairman as he had quit the post on February 24.
Muhyiddin has taken over as acting chairman but Dr Mahathir and his lawyers have contested the RoS’ ruling on the grounds that his resignation had been rejected by the party’s senior leaders.
Dr Mahathir is expected to return to the post once party elections are held as he has won the position uncontested.
The internal polls – initially scheduled for April and May for all branches and divisions, and June for the supreme council – were postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
The party is expected to decide on new polling dates on June 30, said another supreme council member, Razali Idris.
He said the movement-control order (MCO) had also prevented Muhyiddin and his faction from going down to the grassroots to explain their side of the story.
“Grassroots members are not clear on what is happening because Dr Mahathir, Mukhriz and Muhyiddin are the party’s co-founders and the pandemic has made it hard for us to reach out to the grassroots,” said Razali.
Razali, meanwhile, said he believes Bersatu’s future is with PN and not PH.
“Bersatu’s future will be bright if it is with PN. With PN, Bersatu can increase its number of seats in the upcoming general election. Muhyiddin is doing his best as acting chairman and president.
“This crisis is only an internal rift and will not affect Bersatu’s future direction. For me, Bersatu’s future is secure in the president and prime minister’s hands.” – TMI