‘Umno party’ v ‘Umno Cabinet’: Narrative tussle over when GE should be held

Umno

A war of narratives has been brewing between two camps within Umno as Malaysia gears up for the upcoming 15th General Election.

Umno leaders, who occupy positions in the Cabinet, are not eager to head to the polls anytime soon, arguing that more work needs to be done to strengthen the nation’s economy and to continue to be vigilant against Covid-19.

The ringgit has taken a hammering, recording RM4.40 against the US dollar.

The nation remains in transition to endemicity after various lockdowns were imposed since March 2020, due to Covid-19.

Other Umno leaders, however, are still pushing for the elections to be held soon, preferably in months to come, following the party’s success in the Melaka and Johor elections.

The mushrooming of new political parties, coupled with the fact that voters are tired of the constant politicking – manifesting itself in a lower voter turnout at the last two state elections, could work in Barisan Nasional’s favour.

Umno leads the political coalition that held onto power for 60 years until it was booted out of Putrajaya in the 2018 elections.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is Umno vice president, is unlikely to relinquish power sooner than expected, despite calls by the grassroots saying that they are ready for the GE. This, despite assurances by Umno’s Supreme Council, that Ismail Sabri will continue to occupy the top seat in Putrajaya if BN wins at the polls.

“Now, it’s all about setting the narratives to see who will win that war. The Umno Cabinet would want to hold on, and will say what needs to be said. The Umno party will insist that the voices of the grassroots must be respected and demand for an election to be called soon,” said a party insider.

“It will turn ugly, and when you peel away all the narratives, you will see that Umno is struggling in so many ways, from leadership to resources.”

The insider pointed out that Umno’s machinery remains strong, compared to other political parties, but leaders would now have to fork out their own money if they wished to contest in the upcoming election.

“Elections are not cheap. Only those with really deep pockets will contest, as there are many things to look at – banners, volunteers, activities, and so on. The activities depend on the localities. Some communities are content with gotong-royong programmes. Others may insist on having some new infrastructure.

“Umno’s current game plan is to woo and facilitate the voting process for its supporters, to ensure that they come out and vote. The party is not going to bend over backwards for those whom they know will not support them at the ballot box.

“You will see a lot of conversations about why the elections should be held now by one group. The other will try to convince the electorate that Malaysia should not hold elections now. The war of narratives will continue until one party gets tired, and the other party manages to convince the people of its stand.”

He said an effective strategy in one narrative was to label several Umno leaders, including Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, as the ‘court cluster’.

Najib was found guilty by the High Court of misappropriating RM42 million from SRC International, a former subsidiary of 1Malaysia Development Bhd. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail and was fined RM210 million.

The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s judgment. The Federal Court has fixed Aug 15 to Aug 26 to hear Najib’s final bid to overturn his sentence.

Ahmad Zahid was charged with 40 counts of corruption committed when he was the home minister.

“Shouldn’t DAP’s Lim Guan Eng and Muda’s Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman be part of the ‘court cluster’ too? They too, are facing corruption charges. But when people use the term ‘court cluster’, it seems exclusive to Umno leaders, and that’s a win for one of the narratives.”

Lim had allegedly used his position as Penang chief minister to receive RM3.3 million in bribes to help Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd to obtain the undersea tunnel project. The case is on-going.

Syed Saddiq faces four charges of criminal breach of trust (CBT), misappropriation of funds, and money laundering of over RM1 million.

The Umno insider strongly believes that the election will only be held next year.

“Regardless of when the election is held, the country needs political stability. This uncertainty cannot go on, especially with the weakened ringgit. People are suffering.”20

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