Recent statements by Umno Youth leaders against their president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi are a reminder that promised reforms to “rejuvenate” the party never took place, with observers saying it should have initiated reforms in 2018 after its historic fall from power in the election that year.
Social scientist Mahadee Ismail said the youth wing should not blindly follow actions by the party’s top echelons, adding that leaders who have been compromised by scandals and accusations of corruption should not stay in control.
“The changes should have taken place immediately after Barisan Nasional’s (BN) defeat in the 14th general election,” the Universiti Putra Malaysia academic told MalaysiaNow.
But on the contrary, he said, those who became the public’s “icons of shame” have remained in powerful positions in the party.
“This should not have happened. The public is laughing at these icons,” he said, without specifying who he meant.
Zahid recently came under attack from several state and division Umno Youth leaders who urged him to make way in the wake of revelations that he had backed PKR president Anwar Ibrahim to topple the Perikatan Nasional government which Umno supported following the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan administration last year.
“The changes should have taken place immediately after Barisan Nasional’s defeat in the 14th general election.”
Zahid had been slapped with dozens of corruption, criminal breach of trust and money laundering charges, but continued to win the presidency, replacing Najib Razak who relinquished his posts following Umno’s defeat in 2018.
But Najib, whose involvement in the 1MDB scandal was widely blamed for Umno’s loss, has continued to wield influence in the party through his loyal supporters.
An Umno veteran said the party would be staring at a worse defeat in the next general election if it failed to embrace reforms.
Othman Desa, who heads the Umno Veterans Club, said Umno should have emerged stronger after suffering defeat.
“It cannot plunge into the same hole twice,” Othman, who once served as political secretary to former prime minister Abdullah Badawi, told MalaysiaNow.
He also said Umno members should love their party beyond individual loyalties.
“Not much has changed, even as Malaysians have changed.”
But Mahadee said Umno is in the grip of warlords who have long kept younger leaders at bay.
He said other political parties had given greater leadership positions to its youth, but not Umno.
“Not much has changed, even as Malaysians have changed.
“How long more should the old guard remain in power?” he asked.
At least three senior Umno Youth leaders have openly called for a shake-up of the party’s leadership, in an apparent move to back the protests against Zahid in what is seen as a growing disenchantment with their president’s move to support Anwar.
Federal Territories Umno Youth chief Mohamed Nizham Abdullah Hamidi said Umno’s top leadership must be revamped, while the wing’s leaders from Pontian and Seremban, Helmi Buang and Zool Amali Hussin openly called for Zahid’s removal.
Mahadee said Umno is increasingly distancing itself from the younger generation, noting that millions of new voters would be from the youth following the amendments to bring down the minimum voting age to 18.
“I feel it is only in slogans, but nothing in action.”
He said the youth leaders in Umno are best placed to reflect the sentiments of the younger generation.
“People are more knowledgeable and educated and the Umno leadership should wake up to the need for critical changes in the party, especially in ridding the party of negative icons that people are not happy with,” he added.
Mahadee said any move to rejuvenate the party should begin by calling for the removal of “leaders who have passed their time”.
“I feel it is only in slogans, but nothing in action,” he said, referring to calls at past Umno general assemblies to make the party more appealing to the younger generation.
“Umno Youth should continue its demand to be given a bigger say in the party, greater representation in the Supreme Council, and to be in the top posts,” Mahadee said.