After much speculation, Umno crosses the Rubicon

Joceline Tan, The Star

THE circle around Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was still basking in the euphoria of the big boss surviving his first year as Prime Minister when the thunderbolt came from Umno.

Umno was serving a “divorce notice” on the Perikatan Nasional government.

After months of beating around the bush, there it was in black and white – a letter from Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi informing Muhyiddin that Umno would be working with the government only until Parliament is dissolved and the party would not be teaming up with Bersatu in the general election.

It was quite a blow for Bersatu and those at the party’s political bureau on Wednesday evening were said to be fuming mad.

But cool heads prevailed a day later at the Bersatu supreme council meeting that saw the party releasing a sombre statement acknowledging the situation.

What else was there for Bersatu to say or do?

Umno had crossed the Rubicon and the Perikatan government suddenly seemed more shaky than ever even though it had been beefed up by the crossovers of two MPs from Pakatan Harapan.

Moreover, the national mood had begun to lighten up with the arrival of the Covid-19 vaccine while netizens poked fun at the controversy surrounding the millionaire Segamat MP Edmund Santhara who is currently camped out in New Zealand.

“I’m upset but my stand has always been not to be emotional. Any decision made, we have to consider its impact on the people and our country, ” said Bersatu deputy president Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu.

Behind the scenes, Bersatu leaders say that with friends like Umno they do not need Pakatan as the opposition.

Umno has been giving the Prime Minister more headaches than those on the opposition bench.

Umno leaders have tried every trick in the book to undermine Muhyiddin from the hostile takeover of the Perak Mentri Besar post to pestering him to convene a Parliament meeting.

Muhyiddin is even suing Umno supreme council member Datuk Puad Zakarshi over remarks made about the Emergency order.

But for now, this marriage of estranged partners will continue until the Prime Minister decides to go to the polls.

The survival of the government hinges on Umno staying on. It is a cautionary tale of how a smaller party will always have problems if it wants to be the captain in a football team dominated by the big party.

“The kancil (mousedeer) is very clever, but the lion is still the king of the jungle, ” said Umno supreme council member Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad.

The latest development is also seen as Umno flexing its muscles as the biggest party in the ruling coalition.

Umno, said Alwi, is not interested in playing second fiddle to a smaller party.

The next big earthquake will come at the Umno general assembly at the end of this month when delegates will debate and vote on their party’s ties with Bersatu.

It is a foregone conclusion that the delegates would opt for “divorce” given that some 118 Umno divisions during their annual meetings in December had passed resolutions to that effect.

According to Masjid Tanah division chief Datuk Seri Rauf Yusoh, who is a member of the seat negotiation committee, Umno has a superb working relationship with PAS.

Rauf, who is also Speaker of the Melaka state assembly, said negotiations on seats between the two parties have been smooth.

“I believe PAS prefers us, ” he said.

The principle on seat negotiations is that the respective parties will contest the seats they won in the last election. It explains why Umno and Bersatu are unable to come to the table till now.

With the exception of Muhyiddin’s seat in Pagoh, Umno is refusing to make way on seats won by those who hopped over to Bersatu.

PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang is still trying to mediate between the two rivals.

When Ahmad Zahid told Hadi that he is compelled to heed the voices from the Umno divisions, Hadi had retorted: “When we pray in a congregation, the imam leads the prayers. You do not follow those behind you.”

Despite the hostilities, the door is not completely shut on talks between Bersatu and Umno.

“Even after Parliament is dissolved, we can still discuss. We don’t need to agree on everything, but surely we can agree on some things, ” said Alwi, who is also Kok Lanas assemblyman.

The past year has been equally frustrating for both sides of the political divide.

Pakatan accused Muhyiddin of coming in by the backdoor but instead of working towards an early general election, Pakatan has also been trying to bring down Muhyiddin so that it can re-enter Putrajaya by the side door.

The opposition coalition is also deeply fractured and all is not well between DAP and PKR leaders.

Nanyang Siang Pau reported yesterday that DAP is preparing to contest seats in Johor that were previously allocated to PKR.

Given all that has been going on, it is a wonder that Muhyiddin managed to make it to his first anniversary as Prime Minister.

A general election seems the most plausible way out but it may not yield a solution because of the prospect of another hung Parliament.

It will be a bumpy ride ahead for Malaysians.