Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is expected to come down hard on Ismail Sabri Yaakob when party leaders meet in a virtual Supreme Council meeting tonight, in an apparent last ditch effort to get the party to reject the two Cabinet appointments as well as to revoke support for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, MalaysiaNow has learnt.
The appointment of Ismail as deputy prime minister and Hishammuddin Hussein as a senior minister has not gone down well with Zahid and former prime minister Najib Razak who have been working hard to get party leaders to quit their Cabinet and other government posts.
“The president is gathering his men to oppose the appointment,” an Umno source who has been privy to the developments of the past two days told MalaysiaNow.
“But with Umno now given the number two post that has always been the battle cry of Zahid, it will be even more difficult for him to convince his party men to quit the government.”
At successive meetings in Kuala Lumpur this week, Zahid had come under pressure to step down as the party chief in the wake of growing anger over evidence pointing to his support for PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim.
The two politicians, alongside Najib, have since last year rekindled their past alliance in Umno in efforts to bring down Muhyiddin.
Zahid and Najib not only wrote to the palace to express support for Anwar’s bid to become prime minister, they also worked hard to get Umno delegates to agree to a motion to quit the government during the party’s general assembly in March.
While Ismail’s appointment as the deputy prime minister has come as a shock to many, the move is seen as Muhyiddin’s grand design to further isolate Zahid.
“It was something unexpected, and the prime minister decided to use his power to appoint a deputy from Umno, at the same time pre-empting any move by Zahid tonight,” a Cabinet source told MalaysiaNow, adding that most ministers were kept in the dark about the surprise move.
Even before today’s announcement, Umno Youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki who is aligned with Najib declared that the party’s Supreme Council had decided not to accept any deputy prime minister’s position, dismissing rumours on the move.
“Furthermore, instead of lobbying for the DPM’s post, it would be better to lobby the PM to improve the assistance to the people including for a moratorium without accrued interest, i-Citra as well as to speed up and increase the cash assistance under BPR, BPN and BKC,” Ashraf had said before the announcement by the Prime Minister’s Office today.
His statement was similar to Najib’s reaction minutes after news broke of Ismail’s appointment to the powerful post.
“I thought there would be a good announcement on the Covid situation, the moratorium which further burdens borrowers or on increasing i-Citra, but it was about the new DPM and senior minister,” said Najib, before offering a one-line congratulatory message to Ismail and Hishammuddin.
A PKR MP said the Cabinet promotion of the two Umno leaders had thrown a spanner in Zahid’s plan to cooperate with Anwar and Pakatan Harapan, ahead of the Dewan Rakyat reconvening at the end of the month.
“Zahid has in recent days been approaching Umno MPs in a bid to gather support for Anwar for the top post. Now, the whole plan is up in the air,” the MP said.
Zahid’s recent moves have irked many Umno leaders, including Padang Rengas MP Nazri Aziz who made a counter-move by getting the consent of some 25 MPs to appoint Hishammuddin as their spokesman.
It is believed that the majority of Umno MPs have urged Zahid to resign gracefully before any decision is made to refer him to the party’s disciplinary board for breaching the policy of not working with PKR and DAP.
Anger is also growing over a claim Zahid made during his audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, that Cabinet members from Umno as well as heads of GLCs had pledged to quit their posts by August.
A police report was also made against the Umno chief over the possibility that he had misled the Agong.