September 11, 2023
PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA – Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman and Umno president Zahid Hamidi was on Sunday warmly welcomed by leaders of Malaysia’s biggest ethnic Chinese party, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), at its annual congress, signalling closer ties between the two former bitter enemies.
Deputy Prime Minister Zahid, who is facing a raging controversy after a court decision to drop graft charges against him last Monday, took selfies with DAP party delegates as he walked into a hall at a five-star hotel in Putrajaya, the country’s seat of power.
This is the first time the president of the Malay nationalist Umno party has made an appearance at a DAP congress, as the rivals have for decades been implacable political enemies, often accusing each other of being racist.
Mr Zahid’s appearance came a day after allies Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) and BN successfully fended off a vigorous challenge in two Johor by-elections, despite the firestorm of protests on social media among PH supporters over Monday’s decision to drop 47 corruption charges against the Deputy Premier.
Umno and DAP, a key component of PH, are among the 19 component parties in the unity government led by Datuk Seri Anwar. In June, DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke also attended Umno’s general assembly at the Umno headquarters.
With Mr Zahid and several BN leaders sitting in the front row, Mr Loke said in his speech: “The unity government is an inclusive government that fulfils the aspirations of all Malaysians.
“We have to ensure the unity government succeeds. The unity government is the only option to ensure that Malaysia rises again and the country is rebuilt.”
While he did not directly mention Mr Zahid’s case, Mr Loke appeared to allude to the matter, saying that DAP has “principles, but we must have pragmatism” and that it wanted to remain in the ruling administration.
He cited a quote from the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.
“What is important is that our government can bring benefits to the country and the people.”
Mr Zahid later posted on Facebook that “Barisan Nasional will also continue to defend the unity government, which truly reflects the face of Malaysia”.
Speaking about the PH-BN wins in the two Johor by-elections on Saturday, Mr Loke said this showed that voters wanted political stability, and that it was a vote of confidence for the Johor state government led by Menteri Besar Onn Hafiz Ghazi.
“The voters want political stability because the sentiments and narratives played up by Perikatan Nasional (PN) by claiming the government will change if it wins has come to bite it back,” he told a news conference.
“Johoreans want the current leadership to be retained and this is a sign that the people are tired of PN’s political games.”
Following an unprecedented hung Parliament in the general election in November 2022, Mr Anwar’s PH coalition formed a unity government with former rival Umno and its BN coalition, while Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s PN coalition remained in the opposition.
Analysts had mixed views on how the alliance would work out for DAP, particularly in view of the swirling debate over the court decision on Mr Zahid.
Mr Amir Fareed Rahim, strategy director at political risk consultancy KRA Group, said: “The partnership with Umno works for DAP not just in preserving power in Putrajaya in the short run but also in enhancing its electoral prospects in the future with an established Malay party with wide grassroots networks.”
However, Dr Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, cautioned that “while the recent Johor by-election winning results for PH in a sense vindicated Zahid’s dropped charges, his close interactions with DAP, albeit obligatorily as coalition partners, will add ammunition to DAP’s rivals, ironically including MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association, which is part of BN), in attacking the party’s supposedly reformist image.”