Umno’s single-minded charge to the endzone

APRIL 1 — Fool’s errand to try and veer Umno away from its inevitable battle with Bersatu.

The world’s most irritable party held its general assembly last weekend. As custom dictates, over two days, people from inside and outside the party were ripped apart. 

Umno’s approach to champion change is to exhibit anger. Zen philosophy, Jedi mind-tricks or Nicholas Cage films fail to explain Umno’s perpetual petulance.

It’s the only party in modern global history to rule a country for 50 years, abuse its opponents and claim at the end, it was the actual victim all along.

How else to explain its delegates’ beating down of Bersatu’s leadership while acutely aware they back this Muhyiddin Yassin Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.

Booby-trapped convention

Umno members arrive for the party's 2020 general assembly in Kuala Lumpur March 28, 2021. ― Picture by Hari Anggara.
Umno members arrive for the party's 2020 general assembly in Kuala Lumpur March 28, 2021. ― Picture by Hari Anggara.

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The Umno general assembly SOP is no secret. Open discords are frowned upon, so opponents channel their misapprehensions and “facts” about opponents in hope it catches fire. There’s that famous book about why Anwar Ibrahim should not be PM when he was second in command in the 1990s, and Mahathir Mohamad was the author of the poison letter against the first prime minister back in the Sixties.

Rumours swirl under the tension waiting for the first error from the intended prey.

This is how wars are waged in Umno.

This year, Bersatu panderers were open targets. Apologists with the temerity to defend Bersatu to be lynch mobbed.

Unsurprising how the assembly transpired since Umno President Zahid Hamidi controlled party proceedings, and his continued criminal proceedings served only to rile him further. His men were lined up to speak, and as expected they spewed venom in Bersatu’s direction.

Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa, recently removed as Umno secretary-general, had “traitor” posters of him displayed.

Umno Wanita Chief Noraini Ahmad is in the Muhyiddin Cabinet and cleverly stayed clear by spouting Malay-Muslim-need-defending dribble to avoid trouble when addressing her movement. In a separate analysis, not sure the higher education minister telling Malay-Muslims in campuses they need protection from the minorities in said campuses, helps build a Bangsa Malaysia.

Bruised and battered, the “traitors” made it through the assembly.

Post-assembly fightback

Umno ministers inclined to PN regrouped and met the prime minister.

Days later, Mosti and Vaccine Minister Khairy Jamaluddin asks for Umno elections before the general election. To him Umno needs to clean its own act before choosing to partner Bersatu or not.

Almost as if synchronised, Umno information chief Shahril Hamdan asks ministers to put the Malaysian people before the party, which seems quite the PN-friendly statement to be made by an officer appointed by the Umno president to push his agenda which is the opposite.

Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican comes out to support Khairy’s call for party polls to add spice to the mix. On cue, Health Minister Adham Baba stresses Umno must remain with Muhyiddin until Covid-19 is defeated.

Trust Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and Annuar Musa to back these sentiments in the days to come.

The message is clear, Zahid opponents will not fight him publicly, not yet at least.

After all, Annuar’s press secretary and Umno Putrajaya deputy chief Tun Faisal Ismail Aziz has been suspended by the party for six years over his Zahid-related outbursts.

Surprisingly, PAS has issued a joint statement with Bersatu to commit itself to PN. A love triangle takes shape, and in this instance, PAS cannot choose polygamy.

The Bersatu hate

Setting aside the Umno president’s personal reasons, Bersatu is an existentialist threat.

In its first stage, Bersatu was formed from a dejected Mahathir and an expelled Muhyiddin, joined by loyalists who abandoned Umno, and duly formed federal power with the Pakatan vote-bank in 2018.

The second stage was to forge forward with further Umno deserters, between 2018 and 2019.

The third stage was to depose Pakatan from power in 2020, and with Umno and PAS’s help form Perikatan Nasional.

But convenience ends there, when Pakatan — the common enemy — was removed.

Bersatu is too similar for Umno to overlook the constant infiltrations.

PKR used to be Umno’s old nightmare — ex-Umno members leading a multicultural party. Now it’s Bersatu, the horror of a Malay party made of their ilk threatening to outflank Umno in its presumed birth-right, Malay supremacy.

Annuar Musa predicts, fairly, PAS-Umno-Bersatu can garner 149 parliamentary seats from 222. But would that leave Umno on top of Bersatu?

Being part of the winning team is not enough for Umno.

Should the grand old party just let Muhyiddin build his Bersatu inside PN, and Umno a willing accomplice to its own dismantlement?

Slippery slope

Zahid’s timeline for Umno ministers to quit only at the end of this Emergency is a double-edged sword.

This can be seen as reasonable, to allow Adham and Khairy to do their jobs but in another light, whimsical.

That’s why veteran Razaleigh Hamzah wants all ministers out now. Government be damned. A government is pointless without Umno on top in Razaleigh’s eyes.

Meanwhile, Zahid cannot scream traitor here and traitor there only to say he’ll wait out four months when things are serene. Not really sheriff behaviour.

There is a shelf-life for a war cry without the daring to charge out on the field.

Brinkmanship

There's never been more uncertainty over the long-term future of Umno than after this assembly.

Every competitor for Malay support has been obliterated by Umno in the past.  PAS The Early was dispatched to its religious pocket. Semangat 46 smashed to the ground.

Bersatu is the new boy.

Every time, Umno wins by doing two things, tell Malays to follow them and them alone, and tell the rest — the minorities — if they want success to accept their supporting role in Barisan Nasional (BN).

Malay dominance is achieved through attrition. To hit and hurt pretenders by virtue of Umno’s history and longevity.

But have the tectonic plates shifted and the era of Umno obstinance come to an end? That a willingness to share power with PAS and Bersatu — if must— is the new reality.

That if Umno cannot readjust to these new conditions, to be pragmatic about power rather than romanticise its monopoly years, it tempts other possibilities?

It's the unthinkable, Umno’s demise.

Only Umno decides for Umno, as this fool contends. But can it, when it is a house divided?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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