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Umno set to meet as party struggles to accept its fate with power

Analysts see an escalation of infighting as top leaders clash over the party's future direction and its partners-to-be.

Fazreen Kamal
3 minute read

Umno remains in a state of upheaval, a far cry from its days of dominating the federal government, as delegates nationwide gather in Kuala Lumpur this week for its third general assembly since its fall from power three years ago.

Even its return to federal power last year, after a brief stint in the opposition, failed to bring the party together.

Instead, analysts see more infighting, as top leaders publicly clash over the party’s future direction.

This comes amid a split at the top between those who welcome cooperation with Anwar Ibrahim – a former Umno poster boy who recently admitted to having had talks with the Malay party – and those who feel the party must join hands with PAS and Bersatu in the next polls.

Political observer Kartini Aboo Talib expects the coming general assembly to see a battle between party grassroots and the top leadership.

The Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia academic said it would also be marked by calls for Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to step down as president, on the back of his secret letter to the palace in support of Anwar’s bid to topple Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional government, of which Umno is a part.

“Many Umno members feel that the back-door partnership with PKR without going through the Supreme Council is like having an affair,” she told MalaysiaNow.

Anwar had recently aired views similar to those of Zahid and former prime minister Najib Razak, two Umno leaders who have been at the forefront of calls for the party to abandon Bersatu at the next polls.

Bersatu was formed by Muhyiddin in the wake of his sacking from Umno in 2015, after he criticised Najib’s handling of the 1MDB scandal.

Both Zahid and Najib claim that Muhyiddin sidelined Umno despite the party giving him the numbers needed to form the government last year.

“Umno has not realised that real strength is about the acceptance of the ‘silent majority’ towards the party leadership.”

Najib himself has stepped up his criticism of Muhyiddin ever since he was convicted of corruption linked to SRC International in July last year.

The coming together of Anwar and the two Umno leaders received further confirmation recently, when the PKR leader admitted to having held “informal talks” about forming cooperation with Umno.

Kartini said there is a growing resentment among the Umno grassroots towards their top leadership.

Sabah-based analyst Musli Oli meanwhile said Umno members had yet to come to terms with the reasons for their party’s historic defeat in 2018.

“Umno has not realised that real strength is not in the scope of the party or in loyalty to leaders and the party, but about the acceptance of the ‘silent majority’ towards the party leadership,” Musli told MalaysiaNow.

He said the 2018 election should have been a life lesson for the party.

“Unfortunately, some of them are still in denial.”

Musli cited as an example how some Umno leaders still talk about how voters had been influenced by “opposition lies” during the 2018 general election.

“They claim the loss was due to slander, but the leader who was the subject of that slander has now been found guilty.

“Yet, they are still thumping their chests, defending leaders who are facing criminal charges. How are they going to do political marketing for civil society?” he asked.

He was referring to Najib and Zahid, who between them have been slapped with more than 80 charges including for breach of trust, corruption, abuse of power and money laundering.

Najib was found guilty of seven charges last year, and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. His appeal is pending.