Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Mahathir rubbishes talk of putting Umno back in driver’s seat

He says the party is now divided, questioning its ability to win enough seats in the impending general election to reassert its once dominant position.

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The man who led Umno for more than two decades, cementing it as a dominant force and ensuring landslide victories for Barisan Nasional (BN) in five general elections, has rubbished talk by current leaders of returning the party to the driver’s seat of Malaysia’s political power.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose rule throughout the 90s was marked by successive attempts by unified opposition coalitions to win the elections, said he sees no chance of this for any party, including Umno, long viewed as the lynchpin of BN before its fall from power in 2018.

He said the party he once led is now divided with no hope of reviving its heyday in power.

“There is no future (for Umno),” Mahathir, who served as both the longest and shortest reigning Malaysian prime minister, told MalaysiaNow in a recent interview at his office in Putrajaya.

“Even if they come together, it would only be a fraction of the original Umno. Not the whole of Umno.”

A key theme of the Umno general assembly last month was to make the party a dominant ruling force again, as top party leaders took turns decrying the present arrangement with the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government where they said it was playing second fiddle to Bersatu, the Umno splinter party co-founded by Mahathir and current prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin.

“Even if they come together, it would only be a fraction of the original Umno. Not the whole of Umno.”

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and his deputy Mohamad Hasan roused delegates by saying the party would not settle for anything less than what it was before.

“They (can) talk but the way they behave doesn’t look as if they can come together,” Mahathir said.

Likewise, he sees no future for Umno in any general election to come, saying attaining some 80 seats as it had in the past is a distant dream for the party.

“It will maybe achieve 50 or 40 (seats), and that’s not enough of a core to form a good strong coalition.”

But he quickly added that this does not mean Bersatu would stand to gain.

“Muhyiddin will not have any support. They will lose against Umno, because Umno will contest against the seats that Bersatu contested before. And Umno will contest against those Umno people who joined Bersatu,” said Mahathir.

“Umno even by itself has never won enough to set up a government.”

“At the same time, of course, Umno wants to be the dominant party. So it’s going to contest maybe 80 to 90 seats. But it will not get them.”

Mahathir said even when Umno was dominant in the government, it could not achieve enough support on its own.

“At one time, Umno was the dominant party. It was solid. So it provided the core. But Umno even by itself has never won enough to set up a government. Umno needs support of MCA and MIC, and Sabah and Sarawak parties.

“But now Umno is no longer the dominant party, it is split. Many have joined Bersatu. Some have formed factions in Umno.”

In the 2018 election, Umno, through BN, won 54 seats, most due to multiple opposing candidates which gave the edge to the then-incumbent ruling coalition.

The party has since been hit by a series of defections to Bersatu, leaving it with 38 MPs.

The Umno leadership has also been met with rare open criticism from its partners MCA and MIC, who have long been accused by their critics of being subservient to the Malay party.

Meanwhile, Mahathir said recent attempts by leaders such as Zahid and former prime minister Najib Razak to rejuvenate Umno by engaging with the youth on social media would not bear fruit.

“I don’t think so. The youths are very idealistic, they want a clean government,” he said.

He agreed with the view that no single party could have enough seats to stake a claim on the position of prime minister.

“Because all the parties are divided. The Malays are divided into eight parties. Umno itself is divided, there are four factions in Umno and some of them have a very strong stance against Najib.”

He said forming a coalition is still the only way to come to power.

“In Malaysia, there has never been a single party forming the government. It has always been a coalition,” he said, adding that racial loyalties in politics remain.

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