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What Umno’s constitutional amendments mean for the party

Extending the terms of office for its leaders will bring the party both pros and cons.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi stands onstage with other party leaders including Mohamad Hasan and Ismail Sabri Yaakob during the special general assembly at the World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur on May 15. Photo: Bernama
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi stands onstage with other party leaders including Mohamad Hasan and Ismail Sabri Yaakob during the special general assembly at the World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur on May 15. Photo: Bernama

The Umno special general assembly last week unanimously agreed to amend the party constitution in three areas: Clause 10.16, Clause 15.3 and Clause 18.2.

The clause in the limelight was 10.16, which allowed the Supreme Council the power to postpone party elections at the council, division and branch levels for 18 months from the date that an election should be held.

Post-amendment, the Supreme Council is empowered to further postpone party elections until up to six months after the general election is held, depending on which is later.

Umno vice-president Mohamed Khaled had said that under the original clause, the Malay party would have to hold its elections no later than December 2022 – 18 months from the date the elections should have been held in June 2021.

“However, if the general election is held in July 2023, for example, the party elections date can be postponed until January 2024 at the latest,” he said when tabling the motion for amendment at the special assembly.

If the party elections are held in January 2024, the incumbents would have held their office for 66 months from the date of the last Umno polls in June 2018.

Nevertheless, the amendment remains subject to the approval of the Registrar of Societies.

Political analyst Kartini Aboo Talib said the amendments were meant to maintain the status quo for Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and his allies.

“In this case, many are still watching the fate of Zahid, who has been charged with criminal breach of trust and abuse of power, as well as Najib Razak who has been found guilty by the courts,” Kartini of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) said.

Ahmad Atory Hussain of Universiti Sains Malaysia meanwhile said the amendments had reduced the space, freedom, time and options for the election of Umno leaders.

“It’s as if certain leaders have been asked to be elected,” he said. “That is a long period, the same length of time as a general election term.”

He added that the Umno leaders already knew that they would face opposition from party members, and that the most effective way of maintaining their hold on power was to amend the constitution.

‘Better Anwar as PM?’

Questions about the 15th general election (GE15) arose after the party’s last general assembly, where Zahid had pressured Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to dissolve Parliament as soon as possible.

Kartini, who is deputy director of UKM’s Institute of Ethnic Studies, said the amendments would not affect GE15 directly as they also involved Umno’s members, structure and strategy.

“There might be an indirect effect in that as long as corrupt leaders remain at the helm, the people will find it difficult to fully support the party’s leadership,” he said.

“This should highlight the integrity of better leaders from before.”

Atory meanwhile said that the pressure for GE15 to be held would decrease following the amendments, adding that this would suit Ismail who was against an early election.

“Zahid’s faction in all likelihood will not support Ismail as the candidate for prime minister,” he said.

“Instead, they will support Anwar Ibrahim or Najib.”

Neither does the move indicate that Umno is ready to enter the election ring, given its outstanding issues including its cooperation with PAS, Gabungan Parti Sarawak and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah.

Nevertheless, Kartini said Barisan Nasional still appeared dominant given its comfortable victories in the Melaka and Johor state elections.

Atory, on the other hand, said that while the amendments appeared to be part of Umno’s preparations for GE15, the party was in fact split between Ismail’s camp and Zahid’s.

“The court cluster only make up about 20% but they are the ones in power,” he said.

“The majority are with Ismail. Although they originally supported Zahid, they want the Umno elections to be sped up and for GE15 to be held after that.”

As for the amendments themselves, Kartini said Umno would face both the pros and the cons of extending its terms of office from three to five years.

“On one hand, it gives space and time for leaders to truly contribute and to effect meaningful change,” he said.

“On the other hand, a longer period will open the door to corruption and abuse of power, bribery and the maintenance of the status quo, which will make it difficult for transformation to occur.”

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