‘Don’t expect fireworks at Umno general assembly’

For a political party that is still finding it tough grappling with defeat, Umno’s general assembly in Kuala Lumpur this weekend is expected to be a monotonous affair, says an academician.

The two-day general assembly will be held in a hybrid manner, combining physical attendance at the World Trade Centre Kuala Lumpur and virtual attendance of 190 divisions.

Associate Professor Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk said discussions related to ‘severing ties’ with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) are much anticipated but will not serve any purpose as those discussions will not solve the party’s predicament of having to play second fiddle in the government.

He added that while it was likely the party may sever ties with Bersatu but choose to remain supportive of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, such a move could very well be Umno’s way of “buying time” ahead of the 15th general election.

“Umno lost its direction after losing in the 2018 general election. The party was given a lifeline when it decided to be part of the Sheraton Move. But right now, Umno is uncertain of its direction,” said Azeem.

“Being out of power is not something easy for a party like Umno which had been the backbone of Barisan Nasional and the government since independence.”

Azeem, who is Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Policy Research and International Studies director, said Umno’s key leaders in government are keeping their cards close to their chest and will likely not lay down their cards during the general assembly to make public their stand on the likely divorce from Bersatu.

Umno leaders who are part of Muhyiddin’s Cabinet include vice-president Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, Khairy Jamaluddin, Wanita Umno chief Datuk Noraini Ahmad, supreme council members Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said and Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican, and Tan Sri Annuar Musa.

“No Umno ministers would want to be out of power, so they will not antagonise Bersatu so much this weekend. There will also be those who want to build bridges between both parties and this is why the general assembly is not going to resolve anything but raise more questions on Umno’s future direction,” Azeem said.

While maintaining a relationship with PAS appears more beneficial for Umno, Azeem said Umno still needs to be in the government to solidify its position ahead of the general election.

Azeem also said any decision to sever ties with Bersatu, however, will not be of much interest for those at the grassroots.

“The decision to break away was made by the top office-bearers after considering the sentiments of the majority of division heads.

“As for division heads, they will be more interested to know who will be in a position to decide who gets what, when and how. It’s all about patronage,” he said.

Azeem said the party was also still debating if it was ready to allow someone else besides the party president to be named prime minister candidate.

“If it’s not Hishammuddin, it can very well be someone else but there are those who prefer if the president (Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi) sits out of it as he is bogged down with so many court cases. It’s still fluid right now.

“But without a party election at the general assembly, Umno being in so much turmoil coupled with its inexperience dealing with defeat, I would not expect much fireworks at this weekend’s assembly,” he added.

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