Monday, June 14, 2021

Umno heading for biggest split since 1MDB scandal

Senior leaders are calling for party polls to be held without delay, adding to the pressure on Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

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Umno is heading for its most serious split since the ejection of key leaders from the party in 2016, belying the show of unity by delegates at the party’s recent general assembly, MalaysiaNow can reveal.

A movement involving senior leaders is underway to eject party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, through a call for party polls to be held without delay.

“They are convinced that Zahid will be another Najib at the next general election,” an insider told MalaysiaNow, referring to former prime minister Najib Razak’s historic downfall at the 2018 election.

“The faultline is between Zahid and those wanting Umno to find new allies on one side, and those who accept the narrative that times have changed and the party can no longer dream of the past on the other,” it added.

The source said Zahid only has the support of two individuals in the Supreme Council, Umno’s top decision-making body.

“They are Tajuddin Abdul Rahman dan Puad Zarkashi,” it said.

The source said this could be seen at many Supreme Council meetings, where only those two leaders were clear in their support for Zahid’s plan to cut ties with the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition.

The group seeking to overthrow Zahid said Umno has no choice but to work together with PN, headed by Muhyiddin Yassin, the former Umno deputy president who was sacked for criticising the government’s involvement in the 1MDB scandal.

Speakers at the recent Umno general assembly took turns to attack Muhyiddin and Bersatu, backing Zahid’s call for Umno to dump the party at the next election.

But the source said the phrase “save Umno” constantly surfaces in informal meetings among party leaders.

“They also question Zahid’s conduct in his mini speech,” the source said, referring to Zahid’s 10-minute closing address at the general assembly.

“He asked everyone in the hall to stand up if they support his proposal. It created utter confusion when the nation’s cameras were on them,” the source said, adding that they also reject a claim by Zahid and Umno that the party’s ministers were given lowly Cabinet positions.

They likewise reject Zahid’s claim that he was still holding to the “No Anwar, No DAP” rule of thumb on cooperating with other parties.

“That was just to assuage the anger of the delegates. The truth is, Zahid only wants ‘No Bersatu’,” an aide to a veteran Umno leader told MalaysiaNow.

Zahid and Najib, who led Barisan Nasional when it lost in 2018, have been at the forefront of a campaign against Muhyiddin, who was sacked from the party and went on to form Bersatu, striking an alliance with Pakatan Harapan (PH) to bring an end to Umno’s six-decade rule.

They also wrote a letter to the palace in support of PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim’s failed plan to topple Muhyiddin last year.

Since then, several Umno leaders led by the duo have become closer with PKR.

Last month, Anwar and Zahid issued separate statements which were almost identical, further confirming the coming together of both leaders.

Meanwhile, some Umno leaders have openly called for party elections, effetively suggesting that Umno cannot go to the general election under its current leadership.

They include Khairy Jamaluddin, Reezal Merican Naina Merican and Annuar Musa.

Khairy recently mocked Umno’s decision to postpone party polls until after the general election, saying a similar decision prior to the 2018 election did not benefit the party.

“In the end, we folded up,” Khairy said.

Whether or not any movement to topple the Umno president can succeed remains to be seen.

But the party’s recent history is rife with failures to eject its top leader.

At the height of the 1MDB scandal in 2015, many division leaders critical of Najib were subjected to disciplinary action and sacked.

The following year, Muhyiddin and Mukhriz Mahathir were sacked for criticising party leaders.

Anwar himself was unceremoniously sacked in 1998 after falling out with then-party boss Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

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