Commentary: Malaysia’s ‘Dubai Move’ was doomed to fail – it misunderstood Sarawak’s GPS coalition

Those plotting to topple Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government sought to entice Gabungan Parti Sarawak to switch sides. They misunderstand what the coalition stands for, says this ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute researcher.

(CNA) – It is safe to say that the plot to overthrow Anwar Ibrahim’s government – the so-called “Dubai Move” – has failed. The secret meeting at the United Arab Emirates’ city between opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), confirmed by the government communications department and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, sought to entice government MPs to switch allegiance to a government led by Perikatan Nasional (PN).

This is not the first time; in fact, “tebuk atap” (creating a hole in the roof) has become a staple strategy by the opposition since the unity government came to power. It became most pronounced during last year’s state elections.

Notwithstanding an anti-party hopping law in place, MPs are still allowed to switch their support in parliament without being forced to vacate their seat, provided they do not leave their parties. This legal possibility was upheld when the draft law was negotiated, as the PN parties wanted that flexibility, and only punished MPs when they defected or became independent.

This benefited the unity government last year when a few PN MPs switched their support to the unity government in return for constituency allocations.


Even so, PN’s challenge is still difficult as they could only succeed in toppling the government if they have the support of the Sarawak-based coalition, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS). This is because PN only has 70 seats in parliament and would require a minimum transfer of 42 seats.

Outside of Pakatan Harapan, the other significant coalitions that PN needs to have on its side are Barisan Nasional, in which the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) holds the most seats, and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).

Getting UMNO to switch over is hard, given its animosity with the other two Malay parties, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). The only sensible solution for PN was to get GPS to switch sides, hoping that this would create a snowball effect for the rest to follow. This strategy was most critical, given GPS’ importance.

PN understood this. The ideological reason for forming a grand Bumiputera – Malay and non-Malay – government was insufficient without following through with personal rewards.

GPS’ Fadillah Yusof currently holds the second deputy prime minister post, a shrewd move by Anwar in November 2022. This was reinforced by Fadillah’s recent appointment as energy minister, in line with Sarawak’s focus on energy transition.

The only prize that would be better is the prime ministership. This offer was rumoured to be at the centre of the Dubai Move negotiations.

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