Sunday, September 26, 2021

Umno now wants Ahmad Maslan as deputy speaker

But problems loom in getting the support of government MPs for the candidacy of Ahmad, who is part of what is known as the 'court cluster'.

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Umno leaders aligned with Najib Razak are pushing his staunch loyalist Ahmad Maslan for the post of deputy speaker, as a replacement for Azalina Othman Said who resigned last month in the midst of the power vacuum, MalaysiaNow has learnt.

At least two Umno sources who spoke to MalaysiaNow said the Pontian MP’s name has been suggested and awaits approval from other members of the current government.

“With most of their allies sidelined for Cabinet posts, the deputy speaker’s post is seen as the next best thing that they can hope for as far as having some control in the Dewan Rakyat is concerned,” a source close to several key Umno leaders told MalaysiaNow under strict condition of anonymity.

But it said it would be a huge task to get government MPs, especially from the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, to support Ahmad’s candidacy.

Ahmad is among a group of former leaders from the previous Barisan Nasional government known as the “court cluster”, who are facing court charges related to corruption and money laundering.

He served as a deputy minister in three portfolios under Najib: in the Prime Minister’s Department and finance, as well as international trade and industry.

PN chairman Muhyiddin Yassin had made it clear that his coalition would not back individuals facing criminal charges for any role in the administration.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, another Umno source said the move to name Ahmad points to frustrations in the pro-Najib camp over the composition of Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s administration.

It said the announcement by Ismail that Muhyiddin would lead the National Recovery Council (MPN) had only increased these frustrations.

“The MPN is currently perhaps the most powerful entity in the government, so there is a need by Najib’s team to show that they still have some clout with Ismail,” the source added.

MalaysiaNow is trying to contact Ahmad for a response.

The Dewan Rakyat will convene its first sitting since Ismail’s appointment as prime minister on Sept 13, where MPs are expected to vote for a deputy speaker.

Meanwhile, an Umno Supreme Council member said party leaders had initially wanted to appoint Azalina as speaker, in a move designed to remove Azhar Harun.

But the Umno leader said the task was made difficult by the “unauthorised support” for Azalina from Pakatan Harapan (PH) MPs.

“The intense lobbying by some DAP MPs in support of Azalina only made her chances more remote,” he added.

DAP’s Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh had openly praised Azalina following the latter’s criticism of the previous administration, and urged Ismail to appoint her as the law minister, whose task is closely linked to managing Dewan Rakyat debates.

After Azalina was passed over for the post in favour of the more experienced Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Yeoh and other PH politicians had called for her to be installed as speaker instead.

“But that would be going against the very reason Azalina cited when she resigned as deputy speaker,” the source said.

Azalina resigned as one of the two deputy speakers on Aug 23, days after she joined about a dozen MPs aligned with Najib and Zahid in withdrawing their support for the PN administration led by Muhyiddin.

She cited conflict between her party role and being a ruling MP, while calling for the post of speaker and deputy speaker to be filled by those who are impartial and who hold no political posts.

Azhar, the current speaker, is not a member of any political party unlike his predecessor Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof who had contested as a PAS candidate in the general election before joining Amanah.

Ariff however quit Amanah in 2018 to fulfil a condition by the then-PH government for the candidate for the speaker’s post to be independent.

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