A move by Perikatan Nasional (PN) to nominate a veteran politician respected within Barisan Nasional (BN) circles as the Dewan Rakyat speaker rattled the supporters of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim within Umno, resulting in the controversial memorandum of understanding (MoU) binding the MPs of the parties that form the current government, MalaysiaNow has learnt.
Sources close to the Perak Umno leadership said PN's choice of Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, 80 – a veteran politician trained in law who served in various importants posts including as the home and law minister – was seen as more qualified than Pakatan Harapan's (PH) nominee, former Sungai Petani MP Johari Abdul.
"Radzi is well respected within Umno circles for his knowledge of legal matters, so many of us felt that choosing Johari over him would not only be surrendering everything to Anwar, but also showing disrespect to him," said a former MP from Umno.
The election of a new speaker to replace Azhar Harun is on the agenda for tomorrow, when the Dewan Rakyat convenes for the first time since the Nov 19 general election which resulted in weeks of political drama following a hung parliament.
In the past, MPs were given the freedom to vote in the election of a speaker.
"However, this time, it is critical for Anwar to show that he has solid support from all of the MPs from the various coalitions in his government. So it was felt that the move to nominate Radzi might stop that from happening," said the Perak Umno source.
On Friday, Anwar led leaders from PH, BN, Gabungan Parti Sarawak, Gabungan Rakyat Sabah and Warisan in signing an MoU that includes a controversial clause that any MP who does not support government motions will be deemed as disqualified, and their seat declared vacant for a by-election.
The clause was met with criticism for usurping MPs' right to vote according to their conscience, as well as over concerns that it is in violation of the anti-hopping law which clearly states that an MP will not lose his seat if expelled from his party.
"We wanted MPs to support every motion, including the election of Johari as speaker, not just the confidence vote. This is also why Johari could not risk resigning as a Kedah assemblyman until the MoU was signed," said a Kedah PKR source.
Under the constitution, a state assemblyman cannot be made a speaker of the Dewan Rakyat.
Johari announced his resignation as the Gurun state assemblyman today, just two days after the MoU was signed.
'A kind of confidence vote'
The election of a speaker has traditionally come under keen watch as it can be seen as a form of confidence vote in the government although it does not necessarily affect the prime minister's position.
Just five months after the collapse of the PH administration in 2020, then speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof was removed from his position by a narrow vote of 111 against 109 following a motion by the PN govenment, which was then interpreted as the level of support for the government in the Dewan Rakyat.
This time, the level of support for the government will be determined just after the election of a new speaker, through a motion of confidence in the prime minister to be tabled by Deputy Prime Minister Fadillah Yusof.
"But while MPs from parties are expected to support him in order not to disrupt the new government, there are signs that MPs, especially from Umno and GPS, have strong reservations about letting a PKR man also become the speaker.
"So there is fear in the PH camp, as well as in the camp aligned with Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, that the first vote in the Dewan Rakyat will end badly for the government," the Umno source added.
A PKR source said Johari, a close ally of Anwar, had long been considered by the party for the speaker's job, even during PH's earlier tenure in power following the coalition's victory in 2018 under the leadership of Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
"But Anwar and PKR blundered by failing to ensure that Johari resigned from his state seat. As a result, Mahathir was able to overrule the speaker choice originally given to PKR and appoint the vastly more qualified former judge Ariff," the source added.
The source said that giving Johari the post would be seen as a personal gesture from Anwar "to thank him for his loyalty".
This was a reference to Johari's defence of the party president at the height of allegations surrounding a sex video in 2011.
Johari, who said he had been shown the video, had rejected claims that it featured Anwar, accusing Umno of a conspiracy.
Three individuals including former Melaka chief minister Abdul Rahim Thamby Chik were later charged and convicted of the offence of screening a pornographic video to the public.