- Advertisement -

Poor turnout at 'urgent meeting' of Umno chiefs, Najib's imprisonment to ease pressure on Ismail?

Less than 40% of party divisional heads attended a hastily arranged meeting by the court cluster faction this week.

3 minute read
Former leader Najib Razak with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob. Photo: Facebook
Former leader Najib Razak with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob. Photo: Facebook

A gathering of Umno divisional chiefs on Monday confirmed fears within the court cluster group about the extent of their support within the party.

Umno sources familiar with the hastily arranged meeting, held just a day before Najib Razak was sent to jail, said it had only demonstrated a lack of solid support for the former leader and president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi despite their role in bringing the party back to power.  

On Sunday night, Umno secretary-general Ahmad Maslan – one among a number of key former government leaders facing charges in court – sent a message to all 191 divisional leaders nationwide, telling them to gather at the party headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

"The late-night message told us to be at Menara Dato Onn at 11 for a discussion on a very important matter that affects Umno's future.

"So naturally, it was important that all of us be there," a divisional chief from Johor told MalaysiaNow.

However, only 73 – less than 40% – of the divisional chiefs made it to the meeting.

It is understood that most divisional heads in Johor, where Umno's recent return to power was attributed to Najib's campaign, stayed away from the meeting, with only 10 from a total of 26 attending.

"It was well known that the move to gather the chiefs was to put pressure on Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to call for an election, amid worries over Najib's fate that could put him behind bars," said one source who represented a divisional chief from Perak.

Yesterday, the Federal Court in a decision that many had seen coming ordered Najib to begin serving his 12-year prison term after maintaining his conviction for charges related to the misappropriation of RM42 million linked to SRC International.

The move came as Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat rejected requests for an adjournment to allow a recusal application, and insisted that Najib's defence team complete their submissions on the appeal.

An Umno deputy division chief confirmed reports that Najib's appeal hearing was among the matters discussed, but said it was not the main agenda.

"It was put forward that Ismail, being the prime minister, could somehow get things done to save a son of Umno from jail. The idea was summarily rejected.

"But the bigger elephant in the room is that there was a very cold reception to the call for an 'urgent meeting' by the Umno centre. That, perhaps, was a bigger worry than seeing the proposal to interfere in the court process get struck down," the Umno man said.

For months, there had been concern among Najib's supporters in Umno that Ismail's power of incumbency could affect the momentum of support for the former leader, especially in his bid to make a political comeback by avoiding jail.

The assumption was that only a government dominated by Umno could save Najib and other party leaders from the criminal charges they face.

Bolstered by the confidence gained from the party's recent election victories, pressure had been growing on Ismail to use his power to call for an early election, so that a victorious Umno-led government could manage the high-profile court cases. 

Ismail, who came to power on the back of support from Perikatan Nasional, had however resisted the pressure to dissolve Parliament and call for an election.

For now, that pressure has been eased.

"The fact is that the court cluster's rallying point is now in jail, and it is a signal from Ismail that he is now the man in charge in Umno, even though he is just a vice-president," said a Perak Umno man.

"The muted response from divisional chiefs on Monday sent a message that Ismail still holds sway, and in true Umno tradition, the man who has the power is the man that party members are inclined to listen to."