BY all accounts, the Sabah campaign showed that Umno and Bersatu can win elections but not by working with each other. Both were in two pacts and raced to get the larger number with Bersatu pipping Umno at the finish line.
That lack of cooperation could be played out soon at the federal level where Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is under pressure to stop yielding to Bersatu in Malaysia’s fragile ruling coalition.
At risk is his Umno presidency, which will be up for grabs in party elections early next year. Zahid is one of the two Umno presidents who has not been a prime minister in the party and country’s history.
The other is Onn Jaafar, who was the founding president but left in August 1951.
“If he continues, he might as well step down from being party president,” an Umno leader told The Malaysian Insight.
Division chiefs in their WhatsApp group have urged Umno to withdraw from the ruling coalition and a few have made personal visits to his home in the Country Heights enclave south of Kuala Lumpur.
Matter of time
Zahid prefers to keep silent about the issue although he recently said that he cannot stop Umno lawmakers who have expressed support for PKR president Anwar Ibrahim in Parliament, seven months after they agreed to support Bersatu’s Muhyiddin Yassin as the prime minister.
It is understood that both Zahid and Anwar met this past week but nothing has been said about the meeting.
“They met. Any way you see it, that meeting means it is a matter of time before Umno pulls out of the government, especially after the Sabah experience,” a party source said.
He said Umno experienced sabotage during the Sabah campaign and even lost the Telupid seat when Bersatu’s ally PBS contested against the party there.
“They promised senior seats in the Sabah government and didn’t deliver. Bung Moktar Radin had to make noise to get what was promised,” he said, referring to the Sabah deputy chief minister who was also made state works minister after the initial list stated him as the housing minister.
Party sources said Zahid could decide on Umno’s position in the government as early as before the November 6 budget day, putting the Muhyiddin government at risk of falling apart.
“Umno has given way three times, first with Muhyiddin, then the Perak menteri besar and now the Sabah chief minister. There can’t be a next time or Zahid is history,” one source added.
Sacked Umno Supreme Council member Lokman Noor Adam told Zahid on Monday to either distance Umno from Perikatan Nasional or be ousted from the party.
In a Facebook video post on Monday, Lokman gave the Bagan Datoh MP a week to decide, adding that Bersatu was bullying Umno.
Mayang Pasir division Umno information chief Nazri Abdul Latiff said Lokman’s views should be taken seriously.
Some Umno grassroots are still unsure which direction the party is headed and worried it would play second fiddle to Bersatu, he said.
“Umno must show a clear direction in government because we are a party with strong grassroots and big machinery. We need to move forward and not backward,” Nazri said.
“We have machinery that is actively moving for the election, but if the seats are handed over to other parties who use the Umno party machinery, Umno grassroots would feel betrayed,” Nazri said.
Several political scientists said Zahid’s decisions have made him the weakest president of Umno as he has seemed to have lost control of the party.
Ilham Centre executive director Hisomuddin Bakar said Zahid lost control of the party and Lokman’s threat conveyed what others are feeling in the party.
“On the ground, the leadership of Zahid is out of radar from the party’s vision. His leadership is weak. Grassroots are still not clear on what Umno’s plans are in regard to Perikatan Nasional, Muafakat Nasional or the Muhyiddin government.
“He hasn’t explained clearly his position to Umno members. The grassroots members feel Zahid’s era as president is the weakest,” he told The Malaysian Insight.
Hisomuddin said Umno members urge the party to quit the pact as it is doing more damage than good.
Umno feels if they pull support it will pressure Muhyiddin to dissolve Parliament. They feel the support level for Umno will grow and they will have a bigger say.
“But now Bersatu and PAS are moving on their own and Umno is feeling left out. There is uncertainty. If there is dissolution, there will be a fight for Malay seats. It will complicate seat negotiations,” Hisomuddin said.
Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Dr Oh Ei Sun said even if Umno threatens to pull out of PN, it would put the party in a difficult place as the only other option is to work with Anwar.
“They are, of course, certain grassroots sentiments against Umno kowtow-ing to Bersatu. Zahid, of course, is toying with the idea of pulling out support for Muhyiddin as a whole.
“Umno could perhaps work with Anwar, who is a more charismatic leader than Muhyiddin. By this account alone, Umno would not fare well,” he said.
Political scientist Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi said Umno is not naive and is reinventing itself as a party that listens to its grassroots.
He said Zahid might be consolidating power by pandering to the wants of the grassroots, including pulling out of PN’s shadow.
“It’s not that Umno is power hungry but Umno is getting played out principally and in the spirit of cooperation.
“This is a positive step for Umno. Grassroots are angry even though leaders are giving in. This is a strong move as the grassroots are pushing for this (pulling out),” he told The Malaysian Insight.
Awang Azman said Umno is biding its time to pick between Muhyiddin and Anwar or go on its own to call for snap elections as the party feels they will be able to win big in the next elections.
“Umno needs time and momentum to react. This is a grassroots movement. There is deep anger from the Umno factions. This issue is from before not just from Sabah.
THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT