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Analysts see lessons for Umno in Indonesia and India

Without reforms, they say, Umno will suffer the fate of Indonesia's Golkar which faded from the picture despite its dominance in the 1970s.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
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Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (centre) flanked by his deputy Mohamad Hasan at the 2022 general assembly at the World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Jan 13. Photo: Bernama
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (centre) flanked by his deputy Mohamad Hasan at the 2022 general assembly at the World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Jan 13. Photo: Bernama

Analysts warn that it will be difficult for Umno to reclaim its position of dominance in the political arena following its move to fire or suspend a number of leaders seen as out of sync with party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. 

Those who spoke to MalaysiaNow drew parallels with once dominant parties in other countries, including the Party of Functional Groups or Golkar, which controlled Indonesian politics from the 1970s, and the Indian National Congress (INC) which dominated politics in the republic from the early 1950s. 

Golkar has since faded from the picture while INC suffered a heavy defeat in the 2014 election. 

Umno, the backbone of Barisan Nasional (BN) which had held sway since Malaysia's independence, marked its first major loss in the 2008 polls, with increasingly prominent defeats in subsequent elections. 

Political observer Azizi Safar said Umno could choose to be like Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) or suffer the fate of Golkar in Indonesia. 

"LDP rose again to become the dominant party in Japan politics after losing just one election," the former executive secretary for Penang BN said. 

"Golkar, on the other hand, never made a comeback even though it continued to have some measure of support." 

The Umno Supreme Council recently moved to purge the party of those seen as critical of the top leadership, sacking former Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin and ex-Selangor chief Noh Omar. 

It also suspended Sembrong MP Hishammuddin Hussein, former Jempol MP Mohd Salim Mohd, and Tebrau Umno chief Maulizan Bujang. 

The move came on the back of the party's worst electoral performance yet, with just 26 seats won at the Nov 19, 2022 polls. 

Zahid himself defended his Bagan Datuk seat but with a razor-thin majority of some 300 votes. 

He later led BN to join the coalition government helmed by Pakatan Harapan (PH). 

Azizi said Umno had failed to implement much-needed reforms before heading into the general election. 

"The main issue which caused Umno to lose even more seats than in 2018 was the people's rejection of the top leadership," he said. 

Academic Mansor Mohd Noor meanwhile said that Umno had continued to push the blame for its defeat on others, including its so-called poster boy Ismail Sabri Yaakob. 

"But the grassroots who rejected it did so because of its corrupt ways and its failure to stand up for the Malays," Mansor, a former lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Institute of Ethnic Relations, said. 

He added that Umno's leaders rarely learnt any lessons from their mistakes. 

"In 2008, they lost control of a number of states as well as their two-thirds majority in Parliament. Today, they are left with just 26 seats, but they are still confident that they are the kingmakers," he said. 

Azizi meanwhile said that the six state elections to come this year would be an important litmus test for the party. 

"If Umno manages to regain the support of the people, winning all or most of the seats allocated through its cooperation with PH, it has a chance of remaining politically relevant even though it may not be the dominant party," he said. 

"But if the results at the state level mirror the results of GE15, Umno will need to rethink both its direction and its political cooperation with PH."

Without a change of fortune at the polling booth, he said, Umno would likely suffer a fate worse than either INC or Golkar, becoming a party only needed to make up the numbers required to form the government. 

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