Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Umno’s most senior leader in government, has largely steered clear of the public disagreement in the party about its electoral future.
Instead, Ismail, who is the defence minister, has been focusing on his role as one of the public government faces in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
But ahead of a critical deadline for the party, Ismail who is also an Umno vice-president can no longer play it safe.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had reportedly given an ultimatum to Umno to decide, by March 1, whether Umno will go into the 15th general election as an ally of or opponent to Perikatan Nasional.
Ismail, in a statement, did not overtly endorse either configuration but hinted that they would all be better off united.
“In the 22 months of the Pakatan Harapan government, it appeared as if there were attempts to rip apart our diversity when the special privileges of the Malay bumiputera were disturbed.
“How can we forget the suffering brought about by Harapan during its 22 months leading the country that led investors to flee?
“Therefore, I would like to emphasise that the Malay bumiputera must unite to face increasingly challenging politics. Like it or not, the 15th general election is not far off,” Ismail said.
No member spoke to the media after the Feb 19 Umno supreme council meeting
The Umno supreme council met on the matter on Feb 19 and those privy to the meeting largely painted it as a showdown of leaders with ministerial position versus leaders without.
Umno is expected to convey its decision privately to Muhyiddin through a letter and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi appeared adamant that the content of the letter will be to snub PN.
Ismail, in his statement, made no mention of the tussle but urged Umno to learn from its past mistakes that led to its defeat in the 14th general election.
Umno had initially planned to enter the 15th general election with PAS but the collapse of the Harapan government led to a reconfiguration of political alignments.
Bersatu is now in the picture and PAS has drifted to Bersatu as its new ally, making Umno unhappy that it is perceived as having to play second fiddle to Bersatu, which has cobbled together the PN.
Borrowing a Malay idiom, Ismail said a single stick could break easily but not when there are many.
He added that for as long as BN and Umno were the government, there was respect for the coalition from the different races.
“Other races won’t have to worry even if Umno, which is a component of BN, returns as the anchor of the country,” he said.
Ismail went on to urge all Malaysians to reject the politics of hatred and to seek a new beginning.