Sabah Umno split can cause BN’s defeat, say analysts

(FMT) – Political analysts see the split in Sabah Umno as having the potential to cause Barisan Nasional’s (BN) loss in the coming state election and to thereby damage Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s credibility.

They say the opposition of 12 Sabah Umno divisional chiefs to Zahid’s decision to let state Umno chief Bung Moktar Radin lead BN’s charge in the snap polls points to a deep division in the party and this was no help to the state opposition in its bid to wrest power from the Warisan Plus coalition.

On Tuesday, Umno Supreme Council member Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who spoke on behalf of the 12 at a press conference, said Bung’s appointment was not discussed beforehand and therefore went against Umno’s decision last year to grant autonomy to its Sabah chapter.

Rahman, who is Tuaran Umno chief, said his group did not want someone who has to go to court over corruption charges to campaign for BN.

One analyst, Lee Kuok Tiung of Universiti Malaysia Sabah, said Rahman’s statement could be seen as a hint to Zahid that he shouldn’t be leading the party since he is also facing graft charges.

“Umno’s opponents will take this opportunity to mock the party,” he said.

He also said Zahid risked undermining his presidency if he stuck to his decision and BN ended up losing in the election.

Romzi Ationg, also of Universiti Malaysia Sabah, agreed with Lee, saying a loss for BN would cause party supporters as well as the general public to question Zahid’s wisdom.

Commenting on Tuesday’s press conference, Romzi said it appeared that a tense conflict had been ignited between the 12 chiefs and their president.

“This obviously doesn’t look good for Umno as it will make voters sceptical of leaders at both the state and federal levels,” he said.

“There is a power struggle, and a strong one at that, and coupled with things like nepotism, voters will see Umno as a party that has not improved.”

He said voters who would have otherwise voted for BN might instead vote for other parties, adding that this could happen at the next general election as well.

Awang Azman Pawi of Universiti Malaya said there was probably a bigger game at play than just a disagreement within Sabah Umno.

“I see this as an elite political move in the country’s power struggle,” he said. “Rahman is only a spokesperson in this. There is a bigger power behind this rivalry.

“This power struggle will affect the grassroots and will lead to protests, sabotage and fragile cooperations. It will fuel the factional mentality. The grassroots members will be following the instructions of their respective warlords.”

He said BN’s chances in the state polls now looked dim.

Lee said the 12 should have complained of Zahid’s choice behind closed doors, adding that their defiance would cause people to lose respect for Umno.

“Umno’s old disease is sabotage,” he said. “It caused the fall of BN and it hasn’t learned its lesson.”

He also said Bung’s position would now be undermined in seat negotiations with other political parties.

“If Bung does not agree with them, they have the option of negotiating with another team from Umno.”