Ex-Malaysian PM Muhyiddin’s Bersatu hit by defections ahead of Johor polls

KUALA LUMPUR – Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional (PN) bloc has suffered an early blow ahead of a crucial poll in Johor – the former premier’s home state – after a top figure from his own Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia quit on Thursday (Jan 27) and pledged support for its rival Barisan Nasional (BN).

Tebrau chief Mazlan Bujang, who was Johor’s education, information, heritage and culture executive councillor until the state assembly was dissolved on Saturday, said he was leaving with 23 other members from the division to back the Umno-led BN and the leadership of caretaker chief minister, Hasni Mohammad.

“I have made the decision so that we can give way to a more stable political environment and for the betterment of the Johor people in general,” the Puteri Wangsa assemblyman told a press conference, adding that he felt disrespected by Mr Muhyiddin after being removed as state chief.

On Monday, he disclosed that that there were differences between him and the party president.

“Muhyiddin doesn’t own the party,” he was quoted as saying by Malay daily Berita Harian.

“I don’t want to be with a Bersatu that is led by the former prime minister. I see no future to continue being with the party,” he added. 

Mr Mazlan’s decision followed days of speculation that three Bersatu assemblymen in Johor would defect to Umno.

In an immediate response, Mr Muhyiddin blasted his former colleague, branding him as dishonourable.

“Why is he behaving like this? He only wants to say something now, or maybe he knows he will not be one of our candidates,” said the former premier. “He wants Umno? He thinks Umno will nominate him? Now (that the assembly has dissolved) this does not matter anymore and it is just history. He wants to leave with two others? Why not 200,000?”

Despite being partners in both the previous state as well as the current federal government, the Bersatu-led PN and BN will be going head to head against each other, as well as the opposition Pakatan Harapan in the forthcoming Johor poll.

Datuk Hasni, who is from Umno, had a tenuous hold over the previous state assembly. He could only count on a one-seat majority in the 56-seat chamber following the death of his predecessor Osman Sapian, a Bersatu assemblyman, who died last month

Umno has been keen to trigger another ballot in its birthplace after an impressive performance by BN in the Melaka poll in November 2021, when it romped home with a three-quarter majority in the state legislature. Another big win for the coalition would underline its dominance over Bersatu, an awkward partner in government, and embarrass Mr Muhyiddin in his own backyard.

A solid performance in Johor would fuel momentum for an early general election that Umno believes will restore its dominance in Malaysian politics, less than four years after its historic loss in the 2018 election.