BANGKOK, May 18 — Umno, the backbone of defeated Barisan Nasional (BN) will be staring at some “serious battle” involving its leaders following the historic 14th general election (GE14), which saw the coalition losing it six-decade grip on power.
The looming battle, as predicted by an observer on Malaysian politics, Bridget Welsh, could be centred on finding the best ways to revive the 72-year-old Malay party after the electorate handed its worst defeat in history.
“It will be (Datuk Seri Ahmad) Zahid Hamidi against Khairy Jamaluddin and (Datuk Seri) Hishammuddin (Hussein), between the older and younger generations in the party. There will be some serious battle in Umno,” said the Associate Professor of Political Science at John Cabot University in Rome.
She was speaking during a panel discussion on the aftermath of the GE14 organised by the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) here last night.
According to her, GE14 showed that voters from the younger generation were dominant and vital in ensuring the Pakatan Harapan (PH), led by the 92-year-old former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, swept into power.
Days after leading PH to victory, Dr Mahathir was sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister.
Following BN’s stunning defeat, Datuk Seri Najib Razak stepped down from being Umno president, handing the post to his deputy, Ahmad Zahid who will serve as the party’s acting president until the next party election.
Hishammuddin, who is also Najib’s cousin, will take over as the party’s acting deputy president.
Welsh, who in 2016 published a book titled The End of Umno: Essays on Malaysia’s Dominant Party, also served a doomsday assessment on the future of BN’s two main component parties, the Chinese-based MCA and the Indian-based MIC, post May 9 election day.
She said both parties which were led by Datuk Seri Liong Tiong Lai and Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam, respectively, would “close shop” after the humiliating defeat they suffered in the GE14.
Tiong Lai and Dr Subramaniam, who were the former transport and health minister, respectively, in Najib’s cabinet lost their parliamentary seats in the general election and decided to step down from their party’s posts, leaving the two parties which have been with Umno since their Alliance days, in shambles.
During the just-concluded GE14, MCA had only managed to retain the Ayer Hitam parliamentary seat through Datuk Wee Ka Siong and two state seats, while MIC won in just two parliamentary and three state seats.
For another BN component party, the Sarawak-based Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), Welsh said the party would be more “autonomous” after this watershed election, in line with recent media speculation of its intention to leave BN to seek a new coalition.
Sarawak, which had in the past been described as BN’s fortress and “fixed deposit” could only manage to deliver 19 parliamentary seats to the ruling party in GE14, while losing six seats to DAP and PKR.
Meanwhile, another panellist in the discussion, Phil Roberston from Human Right Watch (HRW) Asia described the results of Malaysia’s May 9 general election no less than a “political earthquake” which inspired hope to other countries in the region.
“It was a political earthquake, nine on the Richter Scale,” he said, adding that should the PH-led government fulfil its manifesto, it will set Malaysia apart from its neighbours in terms of human rights, media freedom and separation of powers between branches of the judicial, executive and legislative. — Bernama