Umno’s impending clash with the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition at the upcoming Melaka polls has posed possibly the biggest political dilemma for Ismail Sabri Yaakob since being sworn into power in August, forcing the prime minister to consider whether to even get involved in the election campaign, MalaysiaNow has learnt.
The situation becomes more difficult as Ismail has come under pressure from Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to make a trip to Melaka to join the campaign.
“If Ismail goes to campaign for Umno in Melaka, it would be a suicide mission,” a Pahang Umno insider close to the inner circle of the prime minister told MalaysiaNow.
Ismail came to power in August with the backing of some 50 MPs from PN and its allies, a decision for which he was grateful to Muhyiddin, the Bersatu president.
But he is now in an awkward position of having to adhere to his party boss who has dismissed any form of cooperation with Bersatu, which together with the other main PN party PAS will be clashing with Umno candidates in the Nov 20 polls.
Despite facing stiff resistance from Melaka Umno, Zahid, who led a campaign to topple Muhyiddin’s government after failing to get the Bersatu leader’s help in dozens of criminal cases, is adamant that Umno and Bersatu will not cooperate in the state polls.
Both Muhyiddin and Zahid have openly indicated that their candidates will clash despite MPs from their coalitions making up the current federal government led by Ismail.
“So as an Umno member, Ismail has no choice but to comply with Zahid. But at what cost? Unless Zahid can replace PN’s 50-strong support for the government with support from other MPs, it would be a feat for Ismail to survive his prime ministership until the next election,” said the Umno source.
The pressure from Zahid also comes amid a fallout between the Umno president and Najib Razak, the former prime minister who has reportedly decided to cooperate with Ismail.
MalaysiaNow recently reported that the duo split soon after joining hands to topple Muhyiddin, with Najib now banking on Ismail’s incumbency at the top post for gestures from the government.
It is understood that Najib decided to cut himself off completely from Zahid due to the latter’s trust deficit among Umno leaders.
At the same time, Ismail has been silently working towards support and influence for the party’s top post, something that could only strengthen his position in Putrajaya.
Ismail has the rare reputation of becoming prime minister even though he is only one of three vice-presidents of Umno, in a break from past tradition when the party was in power.
In the quest for Umno presidency, Ismail found an ally in Najib, resulting in a win-win situation for both.
It is learnt that Najib met with Ismail yesterday to discuss the Melaka state election, following similar meetings held separately between Ismail and those aligned with Zahid.
A source said during the meeting with Najib, Ismail had said he should be exempted from the Umno election campaign in Melaka.
“Najib is also asking all ministers to join Umno’s campaign in Melaka, but he has been more lenient when it comes to telling Ismail to make a trip to Melaka,” said the source.
“He is out to ensure that Ismail does not have to add that to his problems. That is also why Najib set aside all other personal chores, including his first trip out of the country to visit his daughter, to focus on Melaka and spare Ismail the misfortune,” said the Umno source.
Najib, who is appealing against a corruption conviction incurred last year in addition to facing multiple other criminal charges related to the 1MDB scandal, was recently granted permission to travel to Singapore to visit his daughter, who is due deliver her second child.
On Monday, however, he was able to postpone the trip to a day after the Melaka state election.
Najib must now prove that his presence in Melaka will work in Umno’s favour.
The small but crucial tourism-driven state was among those which fell to Pakatan Harapan in the last general election, on the back of public anger against Najib which led to his fall from power in 2018.