While former prime minister Najib Razak may be regarded as popular by those within the Umno leadership, this will have no effect on urban seats as his admiration is largely centred among the rural population who are staunch supporters of Barisan Nasional (BN) anyway, analysts say.
James Chin of the University of Tasmania said Umno has little interest in winning urban votes as it knows this would be a difficult task.
“They know that the developed areas are mostly pro-opposition,” he told MalaysiaNow.
“If Umno doesn’t win against DAP, it will probably lose to PKR.”
This makes Najib an asset as well as a liability, Chin said, as the former prime minister has strong support from among the grassroots and rural voters but is tied to corruption issues such as 1MDB which make him unacceptable to those in urban areas.
Oh Ei Sun from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said Umno still has some leaders capable of bringing in the urban votes such as its deputy president Mohamad Hasan and Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin.
But he too agreed that Umno would focus its efforts on defending its vote base in rural areas.
“Leaders like Tok Mat and Khairy might present a more positive image in developed areas, but it must be remembered that Umno has strong support in rural areas,” he said to MalaysiaNow.
“Rural voters like the ‘Bossku’ image,” he added, referring to Najib’s tagline following his fall from power.
“They also like the perception that was projected during Najib’s administration. So Umno wants to capitalise on this to continue bringing in as many votes as possible.”
Chin meanwhile said that while Umno has many talents within its ranks, these have not been fully utilised due to the presence of older leaders.
“For certain reasons, it is difficult for them to rise through the ranks because they are blocked by more senior leaders,” he said.
Recently, Johor Umno said it was depending on Najib’s involvement in the 15th general election as the Pekan MP still appeared to have a strong influence.
This came despite the Court of Appeal unanimously upholding Najib’s conviction and sentence for money laundering, criminal breach of trust and abuse of power in relation to RM42 million in funds from SRC International.
When asked if Umno was short on leaders as it still had to depend on Najib, Mujibu Abd Muis of UiTM said the party had several individuals who could lead but who were not on par with the former prime minister in terms of influence.
“If someone is chosen to lead Umno but is unable to solve the party’s internal issues, it will be difficult for Umno to move ahead,” he said.
“This is one of the advantages that they think only Najib has. Other leaders are not seen as being at the same level.”