Senior Umno leaders have broken ranks with Ahmad Zahid Hamidi following their president’s statement that MPs are free to decide whether to join PKR’s Anwar Ibrahim, who recently claimed he has the majority to topple the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.
This comes as PAS, Umno’s closest ally with whom it formed the historic Muafakat Nasional alliance last year, issues a reminder that the pact between them gives clear priority to Malay political unity and rejects any cooperation with DAP and Amanah.
Many on the Umno Supreme Council who spoke to MalaysiaNow share the same view.
They said they were still committed to the decision made in the wake of the political crisis which saw the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition earlier this year for party MPs to only switch political alliances en bloc.
Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob also said the party was not abandoning its earlier rule of thumb about working with other coalitions – its rejection of Anwar itself as well as DAP, the Malay party’s arch-enemy for decades.
Ismail, the senior minister for security, said this was the same stand taken by Zahid who had even threatened to sack those who do not comply.
He said he was confident that no Umno MPs would back Anwar, who on Wednesday declared that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had lost support from MPs.
Anwar also said he had a large margin of support, describing it as “formidable” with a Malay-Bumiputera dominance.
But Ismail refused to take the claim seriously.
“Anwar said he had 10 names (of Umno MPs backing him), then it became 15, perhaps it will be 50 soon,” the Bera MP was quoted as saying in Sabah.
Supreme Council member Abdul Rahman Mohamad was also sceptical about Anwar’s claim, calling it “sandiwara” (theatrics).
“If indeed he has 10 Umno MPs as he claims, show the list,” Abdul Rahman told MalaysiaNow.
The deputy minister also said Anwar’s announcement was a ploy to get support from voters ahead of the Sabah state election tomorrow.
“It is obvious that it is to swing voters’ sentiments. It will never happen because Sabahans are fed up with Anwar’s behaviour,” he said.
He added that Anwar’s “propaganda” would have no impact on Gabungan Rakyat Sabah, the alliance comprising parties from PN, Sabah Barisan Nasional (BN) as well as Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS).
Yesterday, MalaysiaNow quoted an Umno MP as saying that “one to three” MPs from the Malay party could be joining Anwar.
“At least two of them would include the same persons over whom Dr Mahathir Mohamad backed out from joining Muhyiddin’s coup in February,” the MP said.
At the height of the political crisis in February, Mahathir had said he would not be part of any new coalition if it comprised Umno leaders who were facing corruption charges, including Zahid and his former boss Najib Razak.
Yesterday, MalaysiaNow reported that Umno was split between two camps, for and against Anwar’s plan to form a government led by him.
The two factions are led by Zahid and Mohamad Hasan, the Umno deputy president who has consistently spoken out against any move by the party to return to power outside of the ballot box.
Meanwhile, another Umno leader viewed Zahid’s statement as a veiled threat to Bersatu and Muhyiddin.
He said the breakaway Malay party should be honest in dealing with its allies in PN, and that the clash of PN and BN candidates in several Sabah seats showed there was still no unity in the federal ruling coalition.
“From the overlap of seats between PN and BN to the move to nominate Hajiji Nor as the Sabah chief minister, Bersatu has shown it is acting as a bully,” Supreme Council member Aziz Kaprawi told MalaysiaNow.
Zahid’s remarks suggesting he is open to joining Anwar’s camp does not surprise the seasoned Anwar watcher.
Zahid was Anwar’s closest ally when the duo led Umno in the late 1990s.
But it is his 47 charges of criminal breach of trust, corruption and money laundering that would have led Zahid to come out with a statement seen as supportive of Anwar.
Many believe Zahid had hoped to have the charges against him dropped when he allied himself with Muhyiddin, who broke away from PH in February.
“But that is not likely to happen, as seen in the case involving Najib, who was found guilty despite throwing support behind PN,” said an Umno insider.