Growing rebellion among Umno warlords against Najib

By Wong Choon Mei, Harakahdaily

In signs of growing rebellion by Umno warlords against their party president Prime Minister Najib Razak, the entire executive committee of a Penang division has quit to pave the way for the return of former leader Ahmad Ismail, who stirred a storm of racial controversy in 2008.

“It is a contradictory move and what Ahmad stands for is inconsistent with Najib’s 1Malaysia. It will be hard for Najib to explain why he cannot control Bukit Bendera – not only to Malaysians but also to BN parties like Gerakan,” PAS vice president Salahuddin Ayub told Harakahdaily.

Indeed, since the loss of five key states to Pakatan Rakyat during the landmark 2008 general elections, displaced Umno warlords have been chafing at their reduced opportunities to make money and wield power.

Not only in Penang, but powerful division leaders are also unhappy in Terengganu, Perlis and Negeri Sembilan, where there is open factionalism and infighting is fast reaching boiling point. In Malacca and Selangor, dissatisfaction is building among the ranks despite efforts to paint a rosy picture and keep the disgruntlement out of the public eye.

Zahid and Muhyiddin also eyed

On Monday, all 36 executive committee members of the Bukit Bendera Umno division signed a joint resignation letter. They told the press the letter would be tendered to the Penang liaison committee, headed by Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in the third week of April.

The move set off a blaze of speculation as Najib’s supporters have previously accused Zahid of attempting to embarrass and sabotage their boss by drawing unnecessarily high attention to two incidents.

One involved missing fighter jet engines stolen from a key military base during Najib’s tenure as defense chief and the other was to back a demand by Penang Umno to Gerakan to surrender the state BN chairmanship to Umno.

Ahmad Ismail himself has attracted great notoriety when, in a speech during the race for the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat, he had derided Malaysian Chinese as kaum pendatang or migrant community.

His remarks gravely offended the Chinese here as many of them have been settled in Malaysia for generations, contributing to its economy and well-being even before independence from British rule in 1957.

Umno intrigue and opportunism

But it also spurred the opportunists in Umno into action. Former Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar ordered the arrest of journalist Tan Hoon Cheng, who reported Ahmad’s remarks, under the oppressive Internal Security Act, which allows the government to remand her for indefinite periods of time without trial.

Syed Hamid’s irrational move sparked red-hot international condemnation for the country. It also effectively closed the door on any bid by an already weakened Abdullah Badawi, the prime minister then, to stay in power. At that time, there were rumors of collusion between Syed Hamid and Najib, who was due to inherit Abdullah’s job.

“To gain the political upper hand through unprincipled means and accepting people of low quality does not speak well of Umno and BN,” PAS vice president Mahfuz Omar told Harakahdaily.

“Why should Malaysians trust them any more when they so openly use racism and religion in their politics and the way they govern the country, even at the expense of the peace and security of the nation?

What goes around comes around

But in politics, as in love and war, apparently all is fair. But what goes around comes around and Najib may well find himself hoisted by his own petard and past shenanigans.

All eyes are now on his reaction and those of Ahmad Zahid and Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also known to be at odds with Najib.

To a lesser extent, because of their political weakness, there will also be attention on how Gerakan, MCA and MIC would react.

So far, Najib would only say he would ask the Umno Management Committee to study the Bukit Bendera development.

“Whatever it is, the party constitution must be complied with. I want the Umno Management Committee to study the latest developments,” the PM was reported as saying by Bernama.