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Trashed at GE15, Umno continues to hog the limelight

Its partnership with Pakatan Harapan and questions over its political relevance are cited as factors.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
2 minute read
Delegates mingle during the 2022 Umno general assembly at the World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Jan 11.
Delegates mingle during the 2022 Umno general assembly at the World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Jan 11.

Barisan Nasional (BN) lynchpin Umno appears solidly entrenched in the limelight despite notching its worst electoral drubbing in its six-decade history at the 15th general election last November, even as debate continues on the future of the once-dominant Malay party.

The unexpected shift in support away from Umno notwithstanding, its recent general assembly received widespread coverage from the media and political observers – far more than any other party assembly despite its association with corruption and court charges. 

It has also been faced with criticism over its decision at the assembly to allow the top two posts – held by Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Mohamad Hasan – to go uncontested when the party holds its polls this year. 

Political observer Mak Khuin Weng said the general assembly this time around had continued to receive attention due to Umno's move to join forces with Pakatan Harapan (PH) in forming the government. 

"Their relevance will be measured again at the state elections to come," he added. 

If PH fails to form the government with Umno after these elections, he said, it would show that the Malay vote is firmly behind Perikatan Nasional (PN), cementing the split in voters throughout the peninsula. 

This in turn would lead to a straight fight which he said PH would find difficult to win. 

Adding that PH still needs Umno, Mak said the Malay party continued to wield strong influence in big businesses and over the mainstream media. 

Titiwangsa MP Johari Abdul Ghani, for instance, is the biggest shareholder in Media Prima which controls television networks and print media in addition to news portals. 

Other leaders meanwhile have strong corporate backgrounds, with children and proxies appointed as directors in major companies. 

Zahid alone is the director and shareholder of a number of companies and foundations. 

Kartini Aboo Talib of Universiti Malaysia said the Umno general assembly had received attention as the people wished to see the extent to which the party remained relevant. 

"Many were disappointed because the assembly did not focus on resolutions to reduce the trust deficit of the Malays towards Umno," she said. 

"Many also see its failure as a chance for PN to come up with an agenda to challenge the PH-Umno pact."  

She agreed that there was no question over political and business relations, describing it as a norm in democratic and capitalist systems. 

"BN has MCA together with YTL and Vincent Tan while PH-Amanah has tycoon Koon Yew Yin," she said. 

"Pejuang meanwhile has the support of Lee Kim Yew."