With coalition partner betrayal in state vote, is Malaysia’s latest govt collapse imminent?

The fragile Perikatan Nasional coalition ruling Malaysia for just 9 odd months already looks on the verge of collapse as a key member party – United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) – has pulled off a no-confidence vote on 4 Dec 2020 against fellow allies Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) in a key state of Perak.

While majority rule of state and federal elected representatives are separate, party alliances remain steadfast like how the Republicans and Democrats dominate in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and other federation-type elected governments. Hence the Perak state no-confidence vote is likely to send tectonic tremors to fracture Malaysia’s federal-level coalition.

The uneasy truce between UMNO, PAS and Bersatu was forged when the last pulled out of the previous ruling coalition of Pakatan Harapan – parting ways with Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Democratic Action Party (DAP) and others. Cobbling together as Perikatan Nasional, UMNO bristled as top leadership positions went to Bersatu even though it was UMNO which had vastly larger number of elected representatives.

It was by taking advantage of its numbers advantage that UMNO’s 25 state representatives – with the support of DAP (16) and PKR (3) – ejected Perak leader (Menteri Besar) Ahmad Faizal Azumu from Bersatu. With just 5 representatives, Bersatu stood no chance against the UMNO-led juggernaut – even when combined with 3 PAS representatives.

After this betrayal, coming just days after a similar dismissive action taken in another state where UMNO again had the numbers advantage, the Perikatan Nasional coalition finally had to address UMNO’s hijinks.

PAS has declared it will no longer partner UMNO in the Perak state government while Bersatu remains conciliatory – because this means the coalition still retains 30 representatives to maintain bare majority in Perak. But if PAS proceeds to also break ties with UMNO at the federal level, Perikatan’s slim 111-109 federal majority could be lost and trigger either a general election or yet another horse-trading to forge a new majority coalition among past enemies.

What added insult to injury is UMNO trying to explain away its betrayal at the Perak state vote by insisting it was only to change leadership rather than against its Perikatan coalition partners.

UMNO representative Abd Manap Hashim said he moved the motion of vote of confidence to prove that Ahmad Faizal still has the confidence and majority support of the State Assembly to lead the state government as Perak Menteri Besar. “The largest party (UMNO) aligning to Perikatan Nasional in Perak seems to have issues with the Menteri Besar. So this is the best way to solve it…and verify whether or not (Ahmad Faizal) still has the majority support of the State Assembly.”

This explanation has delighted DAP – which has offered to forge a new coalition with UMNO to rule Perak. If that happens, Perikatan Nasional and also Pakatan Harapan are both screwed at the federal level – paving the way for a new Malaysia government via general election or a new frenemy coalition.

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