Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin may give some form of concession to Umno in his power-sharing deal, although short of increasing the Malay party’s share of the Cabinet as demanded by a faction of MPs led by its president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
A source privy to private conversations between Umno leaders said while the decision will not weaken Muhyiddin’s position, it will neutralise the faction of veteran Umno leaders eager for a “better deal” in return for agreeing to be part of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.
This follows the failure of Zahid’s plan to galvanise fellow Umno MPs into quitting the PN government in the wake of the revelation that he had unilaterally expressed support for Anwar Ibrahim, who has been ratcheting up his claim of possessing the numbers needed to topple Muhyiddin.
But Anwar is still viewed with suspicion within Umno circles.
“His long alliance with DAP means that any support for the PKR leader, even for some hidden agenda, will be frowned on by the party,” said the same high-level source in Umno who told MalaysiaNow about the joint letter to the palace written by Zahid and his predecessor Najib Razak.
On Friday, MalaysiaNow reported that Zahid and Najib in their letter to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong had not only expressed support for Anwar, but claimed that “a number of Umno MPs” would back the PKR leader’s plan to topple Muhyiddin as well.
“That move has angered many senior party leaders,” the source told MalaysiaNow.
One concern is that Umno is split between a faction led by Zahid, and another larger faction that wants the current Cabinet composition to remain until the time is ripe for a general election.
“There are worries that any backdoor negotiations by leaders embroiled in corruption cases could lead to Umno losing everything they currently have,” the source added, using a Malay expression “yang dikejar tak dapat, yang dikendong berciciran” (losing everything while in pursuit of something more).
Leaders who have been campaigning for a greater share of powerful posts for Umno are mostly from the “old guard”.
While their numbers might not be many, they have been enough to warrant media attention.
One of them, Pasir Salak MP Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, said Umno could “find new friends” if it quits Muhyiddin’s PN alliance.
“If Umno quits PN, we have two choices: to find new friends to rebuild our political strength, or to go it alone outside the government as an opposition party,” Tajuddin told MalaysiaNow’s Fazreen Kamal in an interview on Saturday.
The second option of being an opposition party is a more likely reality for Umno, although it is a role the party had struggled to play after its fall from power in 2018.
Umno’s closest ally, PAS, has clearly stated its preference to stay put in PN despite Umno’s repeated reminders of their Muafakat Nasional agreement.
Meanwhile, Sarawak’s GPS is unlikely to jeopardise what it has achieved for the state since boosting Muhyiddin’s numbers in March, especially in matters linked to its oil revenue.
“Muhyiddin must remember, we came with great numbers to form the government.”
Tajuddin, however, is clear about the golden rule: no cooperation with DAP.
That means that Umno must find an alternative to DAP’s 42-seat share in the Dewan Rakyat, something no other party currently has.
At the heart of complaints from MPs such as Tajuddin is that Umno has been “sidelined”.
To them, a deputy prime minister’s post would redeem the Malay party’s image, or at least give it some semblance of what it was when it dominated the government for six decades.
“Muhyiddin must remember, we came with great numbers to form the government,” Tajuddin told MalaysiaNow, referring to Umno’s 39 MPs who joined hands with Bersatu, PAS and GPS to convince the Agong to swear in Muhyiddin as prime minister in March this year.
“If he had known long ago the right thing to do, that is to give the deputy PM’s post to Umno, all this won’t happen,” he added.
Muhyiddin’s Cabinet structure has no allocation for deputy prime minister.
The number two seat has been a point of contention since the 80s, even triggering major political crises.
The current Cabinet has, instead, a second-line quartet of senior ministers, seen as representing different factions in the PN government, to deputise in Muhyiddin’s absence.
Business as usual?
For now, it could be business as usual although with some concessions to Umno.
For one, the prime minister could agree to some form of a deal where greater consultation will be made with Umno in making key government decisions.
“That could mean stopping short of a Cabinet reshuffle which would be very unpopular at a time when the nation’s focus is on the fresh wave of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the Umno source said.
And with anger growing within Umno against Zahid and Najib over their letter to the Agong in support of Anwar, keeping the status quo appears to be a win-win situation.
Meanwhile, the Umno Supreme Council will meet tomorrow, the first time since MalaysiaNow’s revelation of the Zahid-Najib letter to the Agong.
There are signs that the duo may have to explain their action before senior leaders, especially those who are already in the Cabinet.
The pair have yet to deny the claim, although several denials were issued to the press by their officers and supporters.