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Ismail predicts doom for 'same old' Umno at state polls

The former prime minister says Umno appears to have learnt nothing from its general election defeat, and that the demographics of voters do not favour it.

Staff Writers
3 minute read
Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob speaks to reporters at the party's 2022 general assembly in Kuala Lumpur, Jan 14. Photo: Bernama
Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob speaks to reporters at the party's 2022 general assembly in Kuala Lumpur, Jan 14. Photo: Bernama

Former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has warned of a repeat of Umno's historic defeat at the recent polls in the six states that will be holding elections this year, criticising recent moves by the party leadership ignoring the message sent by younger voters who rejected them last year. 

Ismail, the Umno vice-president and among those who opposed party chief Ahmad Zahid Hamidi's recent purging of vocal prominent leaders and members, said there was a need to show young voters that their demands were being heard as the last general election showed that it was ultimately their votes that turned the tide against Umno. 

"Now we must realise that the voters who ultimately make up the numbers in this country are the young voters. A clear message needs to be given to young voters, so that they have new hope for our party. 

"But the signal must be in tune with with their idealism. They are asking for human rights, openness, transparency, the right to expression," Ismail, who led a fragile government for some 16 months before being pressured into calling for elections, told Utusan Malaysia recently.

He said despite Umno's biggest electoral setback, which saw its parliamentary share reduced to 26 seats as the party was decimated in the Malay heartlands, the party appeared to be in "reverse" mode.

"We are sending them (young voters) the wrong signal. They believe that there is no democracy in Umno, and that anyone who speaks up will be chopped, sacked and suspended.

"They want freedom for members. They will not join a party that restricts their freedom. 

"If we give them these wrong signals, there will not be any new hope or change for the party, and it will be hard for us to attract young voters," he said.

On Jan 27, Zahid made good on a promise to "cleanse" the party of several vocal critics, sacking former Umno Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin and former Selangor chief Noh Omar, while suspending prominent members Sembrong MP Hishammuddin Hussein and former information chief Shahril Hamdan. Dozens of others meanwhile were either expelled or suspended.

The move was widely seen as Zahid tightening his grip on the party following demands for him to step down in the wake of Umno's electoral defeat, which saw him instructing MPs to back PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim as the prime minister last year.

The faction aligned with Zahid also pushed through a controversial motion at the party's recent general assembly, banning any challenge against him and his deputy Mohamad Hasan in the upcoming party polls. 

'More young voters coming'

Ismail said the voting pattern coupled with the new demographics of the electorate were not in Umno's favour ahead of the elections in six states which must be held by September.

"Don't forget, in the upcoming state polls, the number of youths will increase. Those who are 18 years old will be registered automatically," said Ismail.

Close to seven million people were automatically registered as voters ahead of the last general election, including those in the 18-20 age bracket who were previously not eligible to take part.

Many observers say the group was critical in creating a wave of support for Perikatan Nasional, the two-year-old coalition led by Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin which wrested a number of Umno's traditional seats, especially in predominantly Malay areas.

"We may face the same problem as we did in the recent election, when we were ultimately rejected by the people, especially the youth and professionals because of (our) attitude," Ismail added.

He said there had been no change in Umno's ways following its defeat.

"If during the general election they rejected us, there is no reason why they would change their minds at the state elections," he added.

Giving a rough breakdown of demographics, Ismail reminded Umno that more Malaysians would be eligible to vote at the state elections as they turn 18.

He said many of those in the youngest categories of voting channels would remain voters as they make way to the higher-aged voting channels.

"And don't forget, there will be new voters on Channel 5 and 6 (18 years and above) as well, who will increase even more. If the 4.5 million (young voters) remain in Channels 3 and 4, add if we add another 4.5 million (younger voters), there will be nine million of them. If these people reject us, we are doomed from the start."