Commentary Politics

Blurry lines in Umno & it’s all at the top

With the recent negative developments in Umno, you'd expect Zahid to show more concern but it appears that he doesn't think there is a problem.

With the recent negative developments in Umno, you'd expect Zahid to show more concern but it appears that he doesn't think there is a problem.

Written by Aziz Hassan

December 18, 2018.

Recollections & Reflections – A commentary

AS Umno got jolted by the recent decision of 11 of its MPs to desert what was for 61 years since the independence the country’s most dominant political party, statements subsequent to what happened last week were a clear indication that various segments within the party were beginning to become restless and maybe impatient too with the seemingly lack of direction from the leadership.

Statements since last week especially indicate a lack of confidence in Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi as president and the calls for his resignation, which most believe will at least stem the flow of desertions, have been getting louder and more widespread.

Thus far only Penang has openly stated support for Zahid and that too was merely a statement from the state’s party leader, not from a declaration by a meeting of divisional leaders.

No doubt Zahid was lawfully elected at the end of June to replace Datuk Seri Najib Razak who had resigned in May after the general elections but the political situation has changed substantially since.

As if the political issues are not enough, Zahid is facing 46 charges relating to bribery, criminal breach of trust and money laundering involving millions of ringgit. No one has done the maths but the total could be a record in Malaysian judicial history. Just like everyone else, in principle he is innocent until proven guilty but if anyone can beat all 46 charges and walk out a free man, Malaysia needs an entirely new Attorney-General’s Chambers. It’s as simple as that.

Never mind the first five MPs who quit the party earlier on but when the groups from Sabah and the peninsular also quit last week to take with them 11 seats, any other president would have immediately called for a supreme council meeting to discuss what was by any measure a developing crisis situation but not Zahid. In fact a council meeting scheduled for Sunday was abruptly postponed without any explanation.

The latest salvo fired by Zahid on Sunday was directed at what he called enemies from within who were trying to topple the Barisan Nasional government in Pahang. The news reports didn’t name anyone but former mentri besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob then made a sarcastic remark in response, with the nuances sounding like a threat from a man who’s not amused and who thinks that someone who’s beleaguered like Zahid should be focusing on trying to make things better instead of creating more suspicions within.

Zahid also remarked that Umno lawmakers should not be jumping ship just to avoid the possibility of litigation, which also casts aspersion on the integrity of those who have left Umno and may eventually quit and also people and agencies involved with investigating various offences and the prosecutors. By this he is also suggesting that those who have been charged, including himself of course, are victims of persecution.

There are also opinions that differ and try to diffuse the situation.

One said it was not as if the election was around the corner that Umno should be panicking, another asked the deserters to give up their seats so others can have the chance to be elected representatives while another said that he respected Zahid’s position as president and was mindful that he was democratically elected.

All have their merits and it can’t be disputed that for each MP, assemblyman or divisional leader who quits, there’s bound to be at least a few more willing and qualified to fill the vacuum. But reality also means that any party that did worse than ever in an election is not in the best of positions and resignations by members in the leadership groups can erode confidence and cause unease. This is where the man at the top has to come in and allay the fears and concerns and Zahid hasn’t done that. Merely issuing a statement asking ordinary members to remain calm is not enough.  

The identities of the Umno puppeteers are now public knowledge

But the situation in Umno as it has been developing over the last few months cannot be dumped wholly onto Zahid, clueless though he is.

What others who were in senior leadership positions have been doing especially lately has not helped.

Despite denials, it has become clearer in recent days as who’s been trying to manoeuvre what, which also doesn’t help because what these leaders should be doing is to rally the troops, consolidate and protect the turf that Umno has.

Why the need for these leaders to try and get Umno to align with factions in the Pakatan Harapan is difficult to understand, given that any defections or resignations are only harming Umno more.

If people in power in Pakatan don’t make another U-turn, Umno need not have to wait more than two years and the national political landscape will change again.

In the meantime, if the feelings against Zahid are truly very strong, the easiest of three options available under the party constitution would be for at least two-thirds of the supreme council members to demand in writing for an extraordinary general assembly to be convened. That would be the first step. From there it’s a question of getting enough votes at the assembly to oust Zahid.





About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.