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Three-way split for Umno after plot to topple Zahid revealed?

Analysts say the recent tell-all by ex-Supreme Council member Tajuddin Abdul Rahman has brought to the open Umno's civil war.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi speaks at the party's general assembly at the World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur in March.
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi speaks at the party's general assembly at the World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur in March.

Umno may find itself split into three camps instead of two, following the revelation of former Supreme Council member Tajuddin Abdul Rahman of a web of plots and back-stabbing involving the top leaders of the country’s largest Malay party.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Tajuddin revealed that there had been efforts in May 2020 by party strongmen Mohamad Hasan and Najib Razak to topple their president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Commenting on the disclosure, analyst Mujibu Abd Muis said Tajuddin’s tell-all session had confirmed the ongoing civil war within the party and would see the formation of a new group.

“Could Zahid’s camp merge with that of Ismail Sabri Yaakob to stop Najib’s group?

“Previously, Zahid’s camp had worked with Najib to up the pressure on Ismail,” Mujibu, of Universiti Teknologi Mara, told MalaysiaNow.

Regardless, he added, the situation did not bode well for Umno in the eyes of the general voters and would be fully exploited by the opposition.

Umno has long been seen as divided into two, between the court cluster led by Zahid and Najib and the Putrajaya camp behind the leadership of Ismail.

The court cluster had recently pushed Ismail to dissolve Parliament, to pave the way for an early election – a move which Tajuddin said was to save Zahid from the slew of criminal charges against him.

Even so, Mujibu said, Umno’s grassroots strength, formidable to begin with, would probably not be swayed.

Analyst Oh Ei Sun meanwhile said news of the plot to remove Zahid came as no particular surprise.

“When Tok Mat found an opportunity and tried to topple Zahid, I was not surprised – just like when Muhyiddin Yassin tried to topple Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he did not hesitate,” Oh, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of Foreign Affairs, said.

“These are ambitious fellows,” he added.

At the same press conference, Tajuddin also confirmed efforts by Zahid to rally support among Umno MPs for PKR president Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister, even though Ismail, who came from the same party, was nominated.

But James Chin of Australia’s University of Tasmania said Tajuddin’s revelations would not affect Zahid’s number one position in Umno.

Despite the initial shock of Tajuddin’s announcement, he said, the Pasir Salak MP had not really mentioned anything new.

“Many Malaysians regard his press conference as a form of revenge, and see him as venting his anger for being sacked from the Supreme Council.

“Will it affect the Umno members who do not support Zahid? No,” he added. “They are preparing for the general election. They don’t really care, they just want Umno to win big so that they can form the next government without Perikatan Nasional.”

And while there had been calls for Zahid to step down, Mujibu said, this was not the only option open to Umno members.

“They could press Zahid to hold party elections as quickly as possible.

“The mandate is over and the election that should be held has been postponed,” he said, referring to the recent special general assembly at which Umno agreed to amend its constitution to allow party polls to be delayed to six months after the general election.

“It would be better and more dignified if Umno held an election as Zahid could then place his fate in the hands of the grassroots,” Mujibu added.

“Then those who disagree can speak out through the proper channels.”