Analysts warn that Umno's decision at its general assembly last weekend against opening its top two posts to contest may backfire on the party, even as it struggles with the biggest loss of Malay support in its election history.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, they said the motion passed on Jan 14 to stop any challenge to the positions of president and deputy president would only give rise to negative perceptions, including from within the party itself.
Mujibu Abd Muis of Universiti Teknologi Mara said the repercussions of the move would also reflect in the results of the six state elections to be held this year, in Selangor, Penang, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan.
"At the 15th general election (GE15), Umno lost many seats due to sabotage after Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi fielded candidates who were not popular with the grassroots," he said.
"If such a thing could happen at GE15, what more now? Umno has made friends with DAP, and decided against any contest for its top two posts.
"These are big things to the grassroots."
The motion at the Umno general assembly was passed despite protests from delegates the day before.
It was also met with criticism by some Umno leaders and influential members including former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who said the decision would jeopardise the confidence of the youth in the party.
Former Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin also slammed the move, speaking of tactics at play to ensure that the top two posts go unchallenged.
Mujibu said Umno and Zahid had missed their chance to clean up the party's image, and had instead given further ammunition to their enemies.
"If they had allowed a contest, Zahid would still have had a chance to win, and at least they would be walking the talk," he said.
"Prove that Umno is an open-minded party that is capable of change. This would have a positive impact."
Nevertheless, he played down the chances of members such as Ismail, Khairy, and Hishammuddin Hussein leaving the party.
"They are loyal to Umno even though they do not agree with Zahid," he said.
Oh Ei Sun from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said Umno's move would only encourage the opinion that the party was weighed down by the court cluster.
"The main priority should be to retain what little Malay support they can still salvage," he said, adding that the "green wave" – a metaphor for Perikatan Nasional – was unlikely to dissipate any time soon.
"This is in tandem with yet another crescendo of international Islamic resurgence recently, with stringent social-control measures resurfacing in Indonesia, Afghanistan and even Kedah.
"The critics would have it that the party is saddled with the same court cluster as leaders. But a change of leadership at this point would likely lead to cosying up with the green wave, which may not be conducive to the long-term socioeconomic viability of the country."