Analysts are expecting some zing in the next Umno election as a number of leaders seen as heavyweights will likely be jostling for the top two spots in the party.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, they did not rule out the possibility that Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob would run for the presidency given his growth in popularity among the grassroots since becoming the prime minister.
Ahmad Atory Hussain of Universiti Sains Malaysia however said that the position of prime minister is no guarantee that Ismail will be chosen as Umno president as several other challengers can be expected to put up a stiff fight.
Others whom he expects to run for president include Khairy Jamaluddin and deputy president Mohamad Hasan.
“Of course the vice-president and members of the Supreme Council or the ‘oldies’ dream of becoming the president,” he said.
Atory sees four individuals in particular as having the edge needed to win the support of the grassroots.
“Ismail is the prime minister while Tok Mat is the deputy,” he said, referring to Mohamad.
“Hishammuddin Hussein meanwhile is known by international leaders and Khairy has strong support from among the youth.”
As for former leader Najib Razak, Atory said he would not return as Umno president or prime minister any time soon.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, however, is more difficult to predict as his court cases are ongoing, he said.
On Wednesday, the Court of Appeal unanimously upheld Najib’s conviction and sentence for seven counts of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering in RM42 million from SRC International.
Zahid, who succeeded Najib as Umno president, faces 47 charges – 12 of criminal breach of trust, eight of bribery and 27 of money laundering involving tens of millions of ringgit belonging to charity outfit Yayasan Akalbudi.
Ismail Sualman of UiTM said it was too soon to count Zahid out of the running as he has yet to be found guilty by the court.
He added that Zahid still has an “aura” in Umno although he is seen as less popular than other leaders as he does not hold a Cabinet position.
“As long as he has not been convicted, he will remain the president,” Ismail Sualman said.
“That is a fact, and Umno members including the leaders still respect Zahid as their president.”
He also cited Umno’s victories under Zahid’s leadership including at the by-elections in Semenyih and Rantau, and the Sabah and Melaka state elections.
“It’s still seen as performing well,” he said.
But he said it would be better for Umno to move away from its old practices and to allow other candidates to contest the top two positions.
Up until the 14th general election, Umno did not normally contest the presidency and deputy presidency. This had been the case since the major split in the 1980s when Dr Mahathir Mohamad was challenged by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
At the Umno election in 2018, though, Zahid was elected as president after defeating four others including Khairy and Umno veteran Razaleigh.
“The days of listing out candidates to influence delegates are over,” Ismail Sualman said.
“Before this, members had to wait in line but now everyone can contest. The right to fight for positions in the party belongs to all, and this will ensure that individuals who lead the party have the support of the grassroots.”
He agreed with Atory that Khairy, Mohamad, Hishammuddin and Ismail would be able to contest the Umno presidency.
“They are the bigwigs in Umno and all have strong support.”