Poison pen letters and verbal punches in Umno

THE gregarious Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi makes friends easily but he recently made the mistake of picking the wrong enemy.

And that enemy is none other than his former friend Tan Sri Annuar Musa.

Annuar turned from friend to foe after Zahid suddenly sacked him as the Barisan Nasional secretary-general earlier this month.

The Umno president and Barisan Nasional chairman may have forgotten the saying about keeping your friends close and enemies closer.

Annuar, who is also the Federal Territories Minister, has since been on attack mode and is exposing secret plots that Zahid would have preferred to be kept under wraps.

The 64-year-old is a fighter who does not run under the table when things go wrong and the Kelantan-born politician is also a gifted orator and people in Umno are listening closely to what he is saying.

At the same time, his Umno friends think he is washing dirty linen in public although he is saying what others dare not say out loud.

He has been labelled as “badan Umno, hati bunga (Umno body, flower heart)”, accused of being Umno on the outside but pro-Bersatu (whose logo is the bunga raya) inside.

His most damaging expose against the leadership was the alleged scheme to nudge Umno into working with DAP and to support Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for the premiership.

He also seems to have triggered some sort of groundswell given the calls from within the party for Zahid to “take a rest” and step aside.

The latest shot came from Paya Besar division chief Datuk Ahmad Tajuddin Sulaiman who asked the Umno president to resign so that the party can recover in time for the general election.

The Pahang-based politician said Umno had lost focus and that the court cases of some leaders, known as the “kluster mahkamah (court cluster)” have become a burden to the party.

The perception is that this cluster or clique of leaders led by Zahid and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is using the party to find a way out of their legal troubles.

“Umno has yet to regain the confidence of the Malay intelligentsia and non-Malays. All this will be a problem for us in the general election, ” said Tititwangsa division chief Datuk Seri Johari Ghani.

The recent attempt by the clique to petition the King for a special sitting of Parliament also did not go down well with the party.

While many Umno leaders are not against a Parliament sitting, they were critical that it was done without going through the supreme council.

“I am going to be frank, many of us think the move was about the self-interests of a few people.

“I sympathise with what they are going through but the president has been inconsistent. He says one thing and does another thing and that creates problems for the party, ” said Datuk Seri Idris Haron, who is the Sungai Udang assemblyman and a former Melaka Chief Minister.

Although only seven of the 42 Umno and Barisan MPs are said to have supported the petition for a Parliament sitting, the clique had managed to signal that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s government no longer commands the numbers.

However, the fact that Zahid could not get more MPs onboard means that Umno MPs are not dancing to the tune of the clique.

This is not the first time that the MPs have spurned the clique.

Back in October, shortly after Anwar claimed to have “strong, formidable and convincing numbers, ” the clique had tried but failed to persuade these MPs to lend their numbers to Anwar during a meeting in PWTC.

And despite the noise coming from the division AGMs earlier this month, the official count showed that only 81 out of 191 divisions had actually passed resolutions to break off from Bersatu.

Although the Umno rank-and-file have no love for Bersatu, many of them say the break-up must be to the benefit of the party and not just a handful of leaders.

There is a renewed sense of urgency among Umno leaders following Muhyiddin’s pledge to call for elections once the pandemic is under control.

“Umno is the biggest political party in the country. There are two options when you are the biggest – you either lead the government or you lead the opposition. There will be problems if you are in between, ” said Johari.

Former Pulau Betong assemblyman Datuk Dr Farid Saad said people out there are evaluating Umno based on the actions of its leaders.

“They are wondering whether we are fit to lead the country. For 22 months, Umno was a strong opposition but it is in danger of becoming the weak link, ” said Farid Saad, who now heads a Penang NGO known as Pemikir.

The pressure is piling up on Zahid.

A sensational poison pen letter, “30 dalil mengapa Zahid perlu letak jawatan sebagai president Umno (30 reasons why Ahmad Zahid should step down as Umno president)”, has also been flying around in the party.

The title is reminiscent of the notorious “50 dalil (50 reasons)” book that triggered Anwar’s fall from grace in Umno.

However, Ahmad Zahid has strong support among many division chiefs. He and Najib are said to control up to two-thirds of Umno division heads.

It is difficult to see more division leaders echoing Ahmad Tajuddin’s stand although they know that Umno will struggle in the general election if it is led by leaders with political baggage.

“Our biggest problem is we do not have a credible prime minister candidate going into the next general election, ” said Idris.

Meanwhile, Umno will face another do-or-die situation this Monday (Jan 25) when the case to deregister the party goes before the Federal Court.