KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — Umno’s core faction, led by president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, will ride on the euphoria from the party’s thumping victories in two state elections to push for an early dissolution of Parliament and pave way for the 15th general election, which pundits said will be the top agenda at its 2021 annual general assembly this year.
The Malay nationalist outfit was barely breathing just three years ago after suffering a shock defeat to an energised Opposition led by one of its former presidents, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, but the party has been in resurgent form since.
Seizing on the division besetting its rivals, Umno was able to force the Opposition into ceding federal power first, before pummeling them in the Melaka and Johor state elections with back-to-back landslide victories. Pundits said the convincing polls victories will lay to rest any internal doubt that Umno could retake Putrajaya, and quell any factional bid to prevent an early general election.
“The series of elections over the past several months were pushed by the faction led by the Umno president and the successes have allowed him to consolidate his position and pressure Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob to call an early general election,” said Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, Associate Director at Vriens & Partners, a public policy, government affairs and political risk consultancy.
“While it is not in Ismail Sabri's interest to hold early polls as he may not be reappointed as the prime minister, Ahmad Zahid, as the Umno president, also holds the cards on fielding candidates for the general election,” he added.
Zahid is likely to ensure that the majority of them are loyal to him instead of Ismail Sabri, according to the analyst.
Party secretary-general Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan has already confirmed that a motion to call for an early election has been submitted, and that it would be one of the key agendas to be deliberated by its supreme council, Umno-linked Malay tabloid Sinar Harian reported yesterday.
One of the issues pertaining to the motion will be to discuss when to hold the general election.
Ismail Sabri, as the prime minister, has the discretionary power to decide when, but as Umno vice-president he is answerable to Zahid, who together with his predecessor and close ally Datuk Seri Najib Razak have been pushing for a general election to be held by this year.
Opposition lawmakers claimed the faction led by Zahid viewed the general election as a way to influence the outcome of the corruption trials involving the Umno president and Najib. The latter has already been convicted on multiple corruption and money laundering charges, and is appealing against it.
This year’s AGM will also be the acid test for the faction opposing Zahid, said Azmi Hassan Senior Fellow at Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research NASR.
The same faction had protested against postponing party elections, which should have taken place last year but were delayed ostensibly as a way to quash any bid to challenge Zahid’s position, at the time fragile because of the corruption charges levelled against the Umno chief.
“One thing for sure, the tone by quarters pushing for internal elections will be more subdued. We know that there are certain quarters pushing for party elections before a general election but with Melaka and Johor, this particular faction will be subdued,” he said.
If rumours are true that Ismail Sabri, a vice-president, could try and persuade the top five to hold elections later, the AGM will be the best avenue to see if he has grassroots support, although most pundits do not see this happening.
Conventionally, the president, his deputy and the three vice-presidents have supreme decision-making power. It is learned that Ismail Sabri is the only vice-president who opposed calling an election this year.
Meanwhile, this AGM could see Umno sever relations with PAS formally.
The two parties had initially agreed to collaborate until the 15th general election when both were the Opposition then, but relations between them have soured since PAS aligned itself with Umno’s archrival, Bersatu, through Perikatan Nasional (PN).
PN, comprising PAS, Gerakan and Bersatu, Umno’s smaller offshoot, failed to mount a serious challenge against Umno at the Melaka and Johor state elections.
Some analysts believe the election results could push Umno to forego Muafakat Nasional and contest the general election under the Barisan Nasional ticket alone.
The 2021 Umno AGM will take place from March 16 to March 19.