Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is having a hard time convincing party leaders in Melaka to go solo in next month’s election, in what is seen as a repeat of the rebellion he faced during past state elections in Sarawak and Sabah, MalaysiaNow has learnt.
At least 70% of the party’s state committee members have spoken out against Zahid’s recent announcement that Umno would contest the election singlehandedly without PAS and Perikatan Nasional (PN).
Umno’s charter of cooperation inked with PAS in 2019 had collapsed following the refusal of the Islamist party to ditch PN, the coalition under Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin whom Zahid and former leader Najib Razak had worked hard to overthrow.
At a recent state committee meeting, several division leaders openly questioned Zahid’s announcement that his party would go solo in the election, saying it was a sure recipe for a comeback by Pakatan Harapan (PH).
Private conversations with Umno leaders also saw many asking whether Zahid’s decision was deliberately designed to “hand over Melaka on a platter to his teacher”, a now familiar reference to the Umno president’s relationship with PH chairman Anwar Ibrahim, based on a leaked phone conversation between the two politicians early this year.
“For Umno to go solo is effectively to repeat the folly of the last general election when PH gained from three-way fights,” one Melaka division leader told MalaysiaNow.
On Oct 12, Zahid said Umno would contest the Melaka polls under Barisan Nasional (BN), and suggested that its cooperation with PAS was also no longer relevant.
The move would mean three-way fights involving PH, PN and BN.
The three-way fights in the 2018 general election were due to the failure by Umno and PAS to form an electoral pact despite the leaders of the two parties patching up their differences on several occasions.
But the break-up of the votes resulted in PH candidates winning enough seats to dethrone BN for the first time in many state assemblies, including Melaka.
In 2018, PH won 15 of the 28 seats in Melaka. At least five seats won by the opposition coalition were however due to the presence of PAS, which, although emerging third, had obtained more votes than the majorities won by PH.
These include seats such as Gadek, Durian Tunggal, Klebang, Telok Mas and Bemban, where BN could arguably have won had it combined forces with PAS.
“The fact is, the votes from Bersatu supporters went to PH in the 2018 election. It is unlikely that these votes will still go to PH in the coming polls,” said an Umno leader in Bukit Katil.
Many see the state polls on Nov 20 as a litmus test not only for Umno, but also for the party’s decision to cut ties with its offshoot Bersatu and PN.
Several Umno divisional leaders in Melaka have expressed concern that the party had not learnt its lesson from the Sabah election last year, where it failed to obtain the numbers needed for Umno to bag the chief minister’s post.
In that election, Umno won fewer seats than its allies in Gabungan Rakyat Sabah, an electoral alliance which also included PN.
But Zahid is no stranger to rebellion from state leaders. In late 2018, an exodus of MPs, assemblymen and state leaders crippled Sabah Umno barely six months after Zahid won the party presidency.
Zahid also came under criticism when he was accused of flexing his muscles in the selection of BN candidates for the 2016 Sarawak state election.
This time, Zahid will have a hard time convincing party leaders in Melaka to continue the policy of viewing Bersatu as an adversary.
“The fact is that Bersatu was the vehicle used by PH to draw the support of the Malays who were disenchanted with Umno in the 2018 election. That small swing of Malay support to PH led to Umno’s downfall.
“Now with PAS and Bersatu in the same camp, it could lead to a larger Malay swing,” said an Umno branch leader from the Hang Tuah Jaya constituency.