PETALING JAYA – Analysts predict a leadership struggle may arise in Umno if the party fails to garner adequate seats in Parliament, as well as in states such as Johor and Kedah, in the upcoming 14th general election (GE14).
Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, who works with the BowerGroupAsia political risk consultancy, said prime minister and Umno president Najib Razak’s position would be very dependent on how the party and the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition performs.
“If Najib wins fewer parliamentary seats than the coalition won in 2013, then serious questions will be asked by the party and a possible leadership tussle may ensue,” he was quoted as saying in a report by Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia (CNA) today.
Asrul said many people had underestimated Najib and wrongly compared him to his predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who had retired for him to take over in April 2009.
Abdullah had led BN to its worst-ever electoral outing, in which the opposition broke BN’s two-thirds majority in Parliament and won five states, in the general election of March 2008.
“Unlike Abdullah, Najib has been resilient, ruthless and brave to make important decisions such as the sacking of his deputy, Muhyiddin (Yassin),” Asrul was quoted as saying.
He added that the departure of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad from Umno strengthened Najib’s position, as many of his detractors also decided to leave the party.
“I think the turning point for Najib was when Mahathir decided to leave Umno and eventually establish his own political party,” he said.
Muhyiddin, who was deputy prime minister since 2009, was dropped from the cabinet in a reshuffle by Najib in July 2015. The Umno deputy president was also sacked from the party in June 2016.
He and Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years till 2003, later formed PPBM in September last year. PPBM later joined the opposition coalition of Pakatan Harapan.
The CNA report also cited Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), as saying that Najib was now very strong in Umno and his position would be secure if the party won the election comfortably.
“I suspect the pressure will be put on Najib if he loses any additional states to Pakatan Harapan. At the moment, all eyes are on Kedah and Johor,” he said.
In the last general election in 2013, BN under Najib won 133 of the Dewan Rakyat’s 222 seats, including 88 that were won by Umno.
BN had also won the states of Perak and Kedah which had been wrested by the opposition in the previous election in 2008.