‘Umno party v Umno Cabinet: Strong political party days are over’

The “war” between Umno members who continue to hunger for power, and those within the Malaysian government, reached new heights following the sacking of Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman (main image) from the party’s Supreme Council.

Questions are now being asked if Umno had just shot itself in the foot, for it had been on track to return to Putrajaya, following the humiliating drubbing it received in the 2018 General Election.

Tajuddin, in a press conference yesterday, had spilled the beans on Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s quest to become prime minister.

Tajuddin, who was recently appointed Malaysia’s ambassador to Indonesia, also said key party leaders had backed opposition leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, to take over the reins in Putrajaya in 2020.

The war between the two camps within Umno has now gone public. Before this, both parties had tussled to win the narrative battle.

Umno leaders without positions in the Cabinet insisted that the general election should be held soon, in line with the demands of the grassroots. This was mainly due to the surge of confidence from the party’s victorious outings in the Melaka and Johor elections.

Umno members serving the Cabinet, however, are eager to hold on to power for a bit longer. Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is the Umno vice-president, will celebrate his first year as prime minister on Aug 21.

The nation transitioning into endemicity following two years of restrictions due to Covid-19, and the battered economy are good enough justifications for the current administration to downplay the talk of a GE – for now.

Professor Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk said factionalism in Umno will surely weaken the party.

“The political situation in Malaysia has not been stable since 2018,” said Azeem, who is director of Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Policy Research and International Studies.

“Never before in the nation’s history has the prime minister not been the Umno president. The warlords in Umno are doing their thing, and now, with Tajuddin spilling the beans, it shows that Umno has been trying to manoeuvre its way back into power.”

“It’s not about what Umno members want, but rather, the survival of Ahmad Zahid and (former prime minister Datuk Seri) Najib Razak, who are facing criminal charges. What we are seeing now is just the beginning of factional rivalry.”

The Federal Court, will in August, hear Najib’s final bid to overturn his 12-year jail sentence and RM210 million fine after he was found guilty of misappropriating RM42 million of SRC International’s funds.

Ahmad Zahid, meanwhile, is facing 47 counts of money laundering and criminal breach of trust, involving millions of ringgit, and accepting bribes during his tenure as home minister.

“But let’s not forget that rivalry in Umno has been going on since the party was set up. Many still remember when Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah took on (Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“Now, new alignments will emerge in Umno. If we look at past experiences, it is all about access to patronage. And in today’s context, it will probably gravitate to Ismail Sabri, as he is the prime minister.”

Azeem said Ismail Sabri’s problem is that he cannot call the shots in Umno, as he is the vice-president, while the Supreme Council is largely made up of Ahmad Zahid’s supporters.

He believes Parliament will not be dissolved anytime soon.

“All the indicators are not in order. The politics in this country has turned into a messy affair after Barisan Nasional collapsed.”

Azeem did not rule out the possibility that Malaysia was experiencing a similar political upheaval seen in Indonesia following the fall of Suharto in 1998.

“There were many presidents (that came after Suharto), before things stabilised in Indonesia. Admittedly, we don’t have a presidential system, like Indonesia. Ours is a parliamentary system.

“The Melaka and Johor elections cannot be used as a means to assess if Umno and BN can truly make a comeback. Was the poor voter turnout then due to political fatigue, or the Covid-19 scare, or other factors?

“If you slice the numbers, the opposition still has a spot, although it’s quite fragmented. Many things are going on in the nation right now that can influence the outcome of the next general election. Inflation is a major factor; not to mention the on-going trials involving Umno leaders, too.”

He said for Umno, it boiled down to the rural voters and how Sabah and Sarawak will work in the equation.

“Umno and BN will not do well in urban centres. That’s almost certain. How they will fare in rural areas remains an open question.

“Surely, the days of strong political parties are over,” he added.

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