The appointment of Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob as prime minister presents the party with its best chance for a top-level shake-up to restore the image tainted by the corruption scandals of previous leaders, analysts say.
They also said Umno was in dire need of a reshuffle to strengthen its cooperation with other parties in Perikatan Nasional (PN) including Bersatu and PAS at the next general election.
Shamsul Amri Baharuddin from the Institute of Ethnic Studies at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said for starters, Umno should sack “problem people” from the party.
“If there is a party election, I hope Ismail will be chosen as president because his people are not picky or embroiled in corruption cases, and are relatively clean compared to the current line-up,” he told MalaysiaNow.
“I believe his appointment marks a big change for Umno. Umno would surely not be fool enough to take in more trouble-makers,” he added.
“This will facilitate Umno’s campaign for the next general election.”
Umno, whose leadership status was thrown into doubt after the Registrar of Societies said it had been late in postponing its party polls, is currently led by Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who is facing tens of criminal charges involving graft, abuse of power and money laundering.
He and former prime minister Najib Razak, who is awaiting the outcome of his appeal against his conviction and jail sentence in the SRC International case, had led a campaign to topple Ismail’s predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin from the top office.
MalaysiaNow revealed last year that the duo had written to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in support of PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim for prime minister in a bid to overthrow the PN government.
Ismail’s appointment to the top office marked a break from party tradition, as all six Umno prime ministers before him were also the president.
Ilham Centre executive director Hisommudin Bakar said he believed Umno would give way to Ismail.
“A leadership reshuffle would depend on the Umno general assembly. If they can compromise despite their differences in opinion on Ismail as prime minister, why not as president?”
Turmoil in Umno if Zahid stands firm
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Hisommudin said there would be mass turmoil in the party if Zahid insists on remaining as president.
“We also need to remember that Umno had previously said ‘No Anwar, no DAP, no Bersatu’,” he added.
“If this persists, it will cause problems for PN. In my opinion, the best formula for Umno now is to compromise in establishing ties with PN, which comprises Bersatu, PAS and Umno itself. Even if there are differences, they can still work together.”
If Umno maintains Zahid as its president, he said, inter-party ties in PN would only last until Parliament is dissolved.
“So I hope Umno and Zahid himself can give way to Ismail to prevent this from one day happening.”
Shamsul meanwhile said if Umno makes no changes to its current leadership, it would have trouble regaining the people’s support after its loss in the 2018 general election.
“The rural folk will ask what Umno’s achievements are now. Corruption? What can they say if the leadership is still the same?
“For me, Ismail must be in charge of the new Umno leadership,” he said.
Sivamurugan Pandian from Universiti Sains Malaysia agreed that Umno needs to revamp its leadership as part of its preparations for the 15th general election.
“Umno needs new leaders who can provide a different approach,” he said.
“In my opinion, if during the election Umno feels that it needs a new leadership line-up that is clean and free from corruption, it should do it.”
In his inaugural speech as prime minister on Monday, Ismail had thanked Muhyiddin and the MPs who supported his appointment to the country’s top post.
Muhyiddin resigned last week after losing his majority due to a group of Umno MPs led by Zahid and Najib who withdrew their support for him.
Ismail was appointed to replace him after 114 MPs from PN, including Zahid and Najib, declared their support for him.
Aliff Fikri contributed to this report.