Is war brewing in central Umno?

By Daniel John Jambun

We know that the state Umno leadership is not at its most harmonious. There is factionalism as confirmed recently by sharp criticism by one group against another group. Even government policies have been questioned by Umno’s own leaders. The Chief Minister himself had advised state leaders to avoid factionalism because it would not be good for the state-level Umno.

Component members of the state BN had on many occasions raised the voices against Umno, including the recent outburst by Sebatik Island PBS leaders who claimed to have been sidelined by Umno on that island. But while this has become a common story at the state level, there are now reports of problems creeping up at the highest level in central Umno. Datuk Khairy Jamaluddin, as the Umno Youth Chief, had been critical of some decisions by his party’s decisions, including the arrest of the six leaders of Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM). Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah too has been out on a safari shooting at all sorts of targets in Umno as if he is no longer in Umno.


Clearly, he has been speaking out of sheer conscience, without any fear or favour. He has been playing the game of brinkmanship, prepared to be kicked at anytime, if Umno dares to! His bravado has emboldened the opposition to approach him secretly to seriously think about coming into Pakatan Rakyat to assume leadership of the opposition coalition in the expectation that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will deftinitely be going for another long-term incarceration. Ku Li must know that this is one very golden opportunity to eventually get what he had always wanted – to become the Prime Minister of Malaysia!


But there is another leader who has the same ambition. The most serious story in Umno now is the wild rumour that Datuk Seri Najib will be challenged by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin for the post of Umno’s presidency in Umno’s next general assembly, and that the former Prime Minister, Tun Mahathir, is behind this agenda. This story seems to be credible, knowing that this Mahathir had not been very happy the way the nation had been governed (once calling the government “weak”), despite his previous support for Najib to take over his predecessor.


If Muhyi challenges Najib, it will be another historic fight with the same epic proportion of the Tun M vs. Ku Li debacle. No doubt, the event will divide Umno and create national tension. Muhyi will be putting his political life on the line, because it will be a case of a do-or-die mission – he can lose everything. But Muhyi has his supporters who have been prodding him to take the plunge, simply because there is a glaring opportunity for an upset because Najib appears to have been weakened, not just by his own indecisions and being implicated in the ongoing court case in France, but by the antics of his wife which have displeased a lot of Umno senior leaders and members.


And herein also lies the big question about the timing of the next general elections. It is now expected to be in November, not just because the number eleven is Najib’s favourite number, but because there is the need to avoid his further loss of credibility before a very possible challenge by Muhyi in the next Umno general assembly and a more heated development of the court case in France to which he may be called to testify.


While Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi’s fall was because of lack of backbone, Najib’s possible fall will be because of lack of will to rein in certain people, to control his wife (the FLOM office, the handbags, the ministerial and ambassadorial roles, the jewellery, etc.), and because of having too many controversies. It is all still undercover now, and the stories are creeping out only through the grapevine, and being reported only in online portals. Will it soon be part of the big stories of the printed media?