Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Zahid’s Umno planning state election streak before GE15 ‘grand finale’?

With its ties with PAS good as dead, Umno has little time to lose in restoring its power at state levels before a general election is held.

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The Umno faction led by party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is planning at least three more state elections in the hope of returning Umno to stronger footing in legislative assemblies, before ending things with a “grand finale” in the form of a general election in July, MalaysiaNow has learnt.

A source close to Zahid’s faction said the plan would see elections being held in Perlis, Kedah and Perak.

“After Johor, there are intense efforts to effect a statewide election in Perak,” the Umno leader who wished to remain unnamed told MalaysiaNow.

Yesterday, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang made his strongest statement against Umno since the two largest Malay-based parties made peace in 2019 by signing Muafakat Nasional, a charter of cooperation seen as the end to a bitter rivalry that had coloured Malay politics for decades.

Hadi’s comments have been seen as a sign that he will not give in to calls by several pro-Umno leaders in PAS who are comfortable with Zahid.

The PAS chief, who wields strong influence on members nationwide, has been distancing his party from Umno since the latter chose to break ties with Bersatu.

After the fall of the Pakatan Harapan government in 2020, which saw PAS backing Muhyiddin Yassin for prime minister, the party also formalised its support by joining the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition helmed by the Bersatu leader, and strongly resisted attempts by a group of Umno MPs aligned with Zahid and Najib Razak to topple the PN government.

The source who spoke to MalaysiaNow confirmed Hadi’s claim yesterday that the Umno group known as the “court cluster” had been behind a plan to force elections in several states.

“Umno is aware that now, when the people have so many other things on their minds after two years of pandemic, will be the best time to set the tone at the state level before contesting the general election,” the source added.

A source close to the anti-Zahid faction in Umno meanwhile said that time was running out for the party president, who is staring at the possibility of being convicted of corruption as was his former boss Najib.

“The time is now, before the five-year mandate is over. The states must be returned to Umno before the final showdown,” said the MP.

He said the timing favours Umno not because of growing support for the party, but due to the indifference of voters outside of a general election.

“Melaka has shown that Umno didn’t get back its lost votes. Instead, the Malays who voted for PH switched to Bersatu under PN.

“This is the time when the permanent Umno vote bank will be coming out in droves to vote, while a good many will stay away as seen in the Melaka election. What better time to grab power than now?

“The general election will be a grand finale, after Umno completes its return to all of the states it either lost or was forced to share power,” the source said.

Yesterday, Hadi said among others that he was aware of why a group of Umno leaders was eager to hold state elections, but warned that PAS’ organisational strength was ready to fight back against such moves.

“We know the strategy used in Melaka will be repeated in Johor. The strategy is nothing more than using Umno’s core votes.

“The turnout (in Melaka) was 60%. Fence-sitters and the youth didn’t really come out to vote,” Hadi said.

This is the first time that so many state elections have been held outside of a general election.

Since 2020, three states – Sabah, Melaka and Sarawak – have seen elections held, while the polling date for the Johor state election is expected to be announced soon following the dissolution of the state assembly.

The source said the main objective of the plan was not only to show that “Umno is back”, but also to set the tone for “full-fledged” federal power.

“When it controls many states, it will be easier for Umno to return to power at the federal level and restore its control of Putrajaya without having to share power with people who put us in the dock,” said a Pahang Umno insider, in an apparent reference to the role played by Bersatu in bringing down the Umno-led government in 2018.

In that election, Bersatu, formed by Umno leaders who went against then prime minister Najib Razak for his role in the 1MDB scandal, took away a critical chunk of Umno’s Malay vote bank, toppling six decades of the Umno-led Barisan Nasional government.

It is meanwhile learnt that while moves are already underway to dissolve state assemblies in Perak and Perlis, it will be Umno’s maneouvering in Kedah which will decide PAS’ future ties with the Malay party.

Kedah has been ruled by a PAS-led government with backing from Umno and Bersatu.

“Any move to destabilise that government will face a huge backlash from PAS supporters, and it will be the final resting place for Muafakat,” said the same Pahang Umno source.

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