History will be made on May 18 as Parliament is set to convene for only a day with one party being represented on both sides of the floor.
Bersatu, which is leading the broad Perikatan Nasional coalition, will have members led by its president Muhyiddin Yassin on the government bench while a smaller group led by its chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad will sit with the opposition.
This will likely be a perplexing and unprecedented scenario, one which many Bersatu leaders, save for Mahathir, are unwilling to go on record for when contacted by Malaysiakini.
Some claimed that there was a gag order.
On April 20, Mahathir made it clear that he will not join the government bench and that Bersatu – which means “to unite” or “to be one” – was essentially split in two.
“So, the faction against the government cannot sit together with the faction with the government,” he said.
Parliament has yet to update its website with the seating arrangement.
Based on the experience of Perak in 2009 – the only other incident of a change in government mid-term – the new seating arrangement will only be revealed on the day of the sitting.
Can’t stop Dr M
According to a party insider, who spoke to Malaysiakini on condition of anonymity, the party leadership cannot punish Mahathir for sitting on the opposition bench.
He said the party rules stipulate that a member can only be dismissed if the person joins another party, contests in an election for public office against a Bersatu candidate, sues the party or loses Malaysian citizenship.
“What is the offence (if Mahathir sits with the opposition)? There is no offence,” said the source.
Several party leaders were in agreement that any attempt to sanction Mahathir or other party MPs siding with the opposition would be difficult and a drawn-out process.
A complaint would have to be lodged with the disciplinary committee in which an investigation would follow.
The member being investigated will also have to present himself before the committee for a hearing.
Another party leader expressed doubt that Muhyiddin would have the gumption to take action against Mahathir – the founding member of the party.
“Do they dare to take action against party member number one? The party is already unstable as it is,” said the source.
Prior to the movement control order (MCO), Mahathir and his allies had been conducting roadshows to rally party members against Muhyiddin for pulling off the “Sheraton Move” in late February and installing himself as prime minister.
Although the bulk of Bersatu MPs backed Muhyiddin, it has caused deep divisions within the party.
Will there be negotiations?
Several party leaders told Malaysiakini that the Muhyiddin faction might find ways to avoid the potential embarrassment by hiding the split.
For instance, Bersatu supreme council member and long-time Mahathir loyalist Abu Bakar Yahya said the seating arrangement is controlled by PAS’ Takiyuddin Hassan, who is the law minister and therefore also in charge of Parliamentary affairs.
“If we really know Tun (Mahathir), he is not the type who would break the rules.
“We would only know for sure when the letter informing of the seating arrangement comes,” said Abu Bakar, who is also Mahathir’s political secretary.
At the time of writing, Malaysiakini’s attempts to establish if there were any efforts by Muhyiddin’s faction to extend the olive branch to Mahathir has been unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Bersatu strategist Rais Hussin believed that Mahathir had every right as an MP not to sit on the government bench.
“It is unprecedented, but we are living in unprecedented times,” he said.
Rais added that Bersatu also needs to look at the matter carefully so as not to worsen the rift between its two top leaders and break the party further apart.
“My hope is that there would be some form of reconciliation between the two top leaders in the greater interests of the nation given that we are facing a very potent pandemic.”
Asked if there were efforts to mend ties between Muhyiddin and Mahathir, Rais said it was a work in progress.
“Muhyiddin extended the olive branch from his inaugural speech as prime minister.
“They are both seasoned leaders in their own right,” he said. – Malaysiakini