KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 28 — While it is common for factions to form within a party, in the case of Umno, any complot is usually kept in check by the steady hand of its supreme council and party president.
However, recent infighting and senior party leaders openly taking pot shots at each other in the media indicate that discipline is at an all-time low.
Many might argue that Umno’s current instability can be traced back to its resounding defeat in the 14th general election.
Yet, party insiders indicate that, in fact, all roads lead to party president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and senior party figures.
The suggestion is that they have not only failed to rein in undisciplined members, but perhaps even tacitly encouraged “chaos” within the party to further their own agendas.
Recently, Umno has been split over whether it should continue to support the Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration, strengthen Muafakat Nasional (MN) with PAS, or forge a new political configuration by working with DAP and PKR.
Playing second fiddle
In an interview with Mingguan Malaysia on January 17, former Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) secretary-general, Tan Sri Annuar Musa, said his party is split three ways.
He said that the alleged groups are divided into those who support cooperation with Bersatu, those who reject it and those who remain on the fence.
A party insider confirmed the split to Malay Mail, saying that many Umno leaders want to cease cooperating with Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as they feel they have been sidelined, whether in the upper echelons of the PN administration or at the grassroots level.
“Zahid and those with ongoing court cases just want Muhyiddin out. This is so they can take their chances with someone else or in a different configuration, either through a general election or Anwar, effectively selling the party out,” said the party insider, in reference to PKR party president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
“There is no discipline because they allow chaos to happen. Encourage it even,” added the party insider.
As it stands, two Umno lawmakers, Padang Rengas MP Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz and Machang MP Datuk Ahmad Jazlan Yaakob, have officially rescinded their support for PN this month.
Gua Musang MP Tan Sri Razaleigh Hamzah also announced last year that he would not support PN.
Consequently, PN now only has the support of 109 MPs out of a total 222 in the Dewan Rakyat. [Two seats, Gerik and Batu Sapi, are currently vacant following their incumbent’s death.]
During his announcement, Ahmad Jazlan stated that 143 out of Umno’s 191 divisions had told the party leadership they no longer want to cooperate with Muhyiddin’s Bersatu at the next general election.
Another party insider said, however, that the Umno president had to abide by grassroots’ opinion after they openly rejected any further continuation of the relationship.
“Zahid has to follow the majority voice of the grassroots and division leaders. The decision is not his alone as many Umno members are demanding that we break it off with PN and head into the elections with PAS,” said the source.
Another source from within Umno claimed Zahid, who is seen as leading the breakaway faction, intended to use the party’s general assembly to state its intentions to Muhyiddin.
That plan, if true, is now on hold, as the party decided to postpone the annual meeting in light of the reimplementation of the movement control order (MCO) and Emergency proclamation earlier this month.
“Zahid wanted the delegation at PAU to speak out against Bersatu,” said the source, using the Malay acronym for the Umno general assembly.
“They wanted to establish Umno and force an early general election as they foresee Bersatu seeking to contest many Umno seats and replace it as the biggest party.”
The same source, however, admitted that while Zahid still has a huge amount of influence over the majority of division leaders, more and more grassroots are open to the idea of fresh leadership.
“The top leadership is not really united, same as on the ground. The split has threatened even Zahid’s position now,” said the source.
A house divided
Umno’s No. 2, Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, is seen as consciously sidestepping most of the Umno-Bersatu drama.
Meanwhile, political observers say that the party’s three vice-presidents — Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin — are not on the same page.
Mahdzir has kept his cards close to his chest, while Ismail Sabri is viewed as being ‘friendly’ with Muhyiddin’s government in his position as senior minister.
In contrast, Khaled has been very critical of Bersatu and openly trashed PN’s effort to officialise its ties with BN.
However, as political pressure mounts, and saddled with a worsening Covid-19 outbreak, many pundits consider Muhyiddin’s Emergency proclamation as timely.
While it will ostensibly allow the PN administration to focus on combating Covid-19, the move also checkmated Umno, which has been chomping at the bit for a general election to be called in the first quarter of 2021, according to political observers.
A recently leaked document purportedly provided evidence of Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan trying to amass the support of party lawmakers to petition the Agong to lift the state of Emergency as a means to break the political deadlock.
It was also reported that this move was allegedly instigated by Pekan MP Datuk Seri Najib Razak as a means to bring down Muhyiddin’s administration.