As opposition politicians and pundits pitch a championship bout between Umno top guns Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Hishammuddin Hussein, down on the ground, the party grassroots are painting a rosy picture.
Sources and grassroots members Malaysiakini spoke to indicated that there is no groundswell of unease or anger over Hishammuddin’s surprise appointment as minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of special functions.
Perak-born Umno Youth grassroots member Syed Rosli Jamalullail – who is known for his rebellious nature – said there was full support for the new appointment.
“(The grassroots) fully support Hishammuddin’s appointment by the prime minister (Najib Abdul Razak) because there is a need for it according to our prime minister, whom we trust,” Syed Rosli said in a WhatsApp conversation.
Asked if there were concerns that Najib might oust Zahid, just as he ousted his former deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, he said “no”.
“(Najib) is afraid of Zahid,” he said, and that there would be terrible repercussion if Zahid were to be sacked as the Umno de facto number two has strong support.
“Hishammuddin is not as popular or as strong as Zahid in terms of grassroots support.
“But there is no need for the PM to sack Zahid as deputy prime minister because Zahid has shown that he fully supports the PM,” Syed Rosli said.
Meanwhile, sources in Johor Umno said there was no issue of a fight between Zahid and Hishammuddin.
“Everyone respects both of them… (Hishammuddin’s appointment) is so that Najib and Zahid can focus on the 14th general election,” one source said.
Another source concurred, saying the Johor grassroots were familiar with both, viewing them as capable leaders.
The source added that Hishammuddin would be assisting Najib on international affairs as he handled MH370 and MH17 tragedies quite well.
Federal Territories Umno Youth chief Razlan Rafii also said there have been no murmurs questioning Zahid’s fate on Umno’s WhatsApp chat groups.
“The opposition is trying to create rifts, that is normal. But in Umno WhatsApp (groups), many are congratulating (Hishammuddin),” Razlan said.
He said Umno members understood that efforts must now be focused on winning the general election.
“It is not the time for internal politics chess. It is time to use all (our) forces to win the war,” he added.
Hishammuddin’s appointment as special functions minister – effective yesterday – was announced by Najib. Zahid himself expressed support for the appointment.
Hishammuddin’s new duties include managing bilateral relations, as well as assisting the prime minister.
Several opposition leaders have speculated that his appointment would spell disaster for Zahid, and cull any prospects of him becoming prime minister.
As the dust settles over the appointment, some are now speculating that the appointment is to ensure that Hishammuddin stays at the top in Umno, with him either being the top honcho, or as Zahid’s deputy.