Seeds of discord are going to splinter Umno

Jamari Mohtar, Malay Mail Online

Umno looked strong and macho during its recent annual general assembly but beneath the surface a lot of discords were going on and these burst to the surface so soon after the assembly.

From the basic issue of discord which is whether Umno should be working together with Bersatu in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition during the 15th General Election (GE 15), this issue has had spin-offs to other issues of discord.

If only Umno had single-handedly given the assurance during the Assembly that it is with the PN government until GE15, and behave like a party in a coalition government by airing its dissatisfaction with the government through the proper channels, things would have settled amicably.

But no, almost every speaker in the Assembly wanted to be the champion in Bersatu bashing, forgetting that some in Umno including the grassroots want to have a good relationship with Bersatu and PAS for the sake of the unity of the ummah.

This cavalier approach of Umno during the Assembly is now biting the party with seeds of discord on issues such as:

  • Should those in the Cabinet resign now or wait until parliament is dissolved;
  • Should party election proceed as per normal when the term of the current office holders will expire in June or whether this should be postponed; and
  • Now that Bersatu and PAS have inked an agreement to work together during GE15, should the political pact between Umno and PAS under Muafakat Nasional (MN) be continued or abrogated.

Before I have even finished writing the last sentence above, here comes the news hot from the press that PAS has rejected MN, with its president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang calling on all parties to join PN in a new alliance. PAS, according to Hadi, rejects a consensus that is divided and deviates from the original goals of MN.

In a statement today (April 2), Hadi also says PAS “rejected groups that showed disloyalty to the country and prioritised internal politicking over more pressing issues”, an apparent reference to Umno.

It bemoaned politics that wastes time when there are natural disasters and a pandemic that still spreads today. “PAS rejects an agenda that aims solely to save the personalities of its leaders and groups, not to save the country and all the people,” Hadi adds.

Wonder what the grand old man of Umno, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah would say seeing that he is one of those Umno leaders yearning so much to see this rupture between Umno and PAS, should PAS continue to work with Bersatu.

And thing is now turning from Bersatu bashing by Umno to Umno bashing by PAS.

When Umno announced the go-alone move in GE15, it still has high hope that PAS will follow suit in severing its relation with Bersatu and choose Umno over Bersatu.

Even on the eve of PAS breaking away from Umno in MN, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Umno President, seemed desperate enough to woo PAS by reminding the latter of past involvement in failed political pacts built upon dishonesty and no genuine relationships.

Zahid was referring to the past failure of Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah and Semangat 46 in which PAS was involved and was at the receiving end. But of course, PAS has a long memory too on how it was on the receiving end from Umno when it was part of the BN coalition in the 70s.

The difference between Umno and PAS with regard to its approach to Bersatu is so telling in the sense while Umno seem hesitant for a final break with Bersatu despite the strong and harsh words against Bersatu in the general assembly, PAS is very firm in its resolve to break with Umno.

PAS, according to Hadi, had already weighed thoroughly its commitment to the PN coalition, and the party has survived many years as a political force while others who split with it have collapsed.

Meanwhile, his deputy, Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man said Muafakat should no longer be seen from the lens of when it was an opposition group but through the current perspective of it being part of the PN government.

The MN political pact formed with Umno in 2019 was precisely for Umno to regain power through BN after losing GE14 to Pakatan Harapan by avoiding multi-cornered contest.

So Umno will have to weigh in again its strategy of going alone. And whenever it says of going alone, it is not really alone but with component parties of BN. Umno is very much aware for the past 60 years, it won every election not on its own but with a BN coalition that always include the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).

BN coalition which used to have more than four members is now being decimated to only four after a string of defections following BN’s defeat in GE14 — Umno, MCA, MIC and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS).

And all don’t seem well too at the BN level. MIC president, Tan Sri SA Vigneswaran for instance, is raising the issue of who’ll be Umno’s nominee for PM going into battle in GE15 because it’s difficult to win a battle without knowing who’s the captain.

And today (April 2), its deputy president Datuk Seri M. Saravanan said MIC has yet to decide whether to follow Umno’s lead in severing ties with Bersatu and PN in the lead up to GE15.

This is because if a decision was made to follow Umno, the party must be prepared to face an unprecedented challenge of going to the polls as an opposition party, and its members do not have the experience to face a general election as the opposition.

He also took a swipe at Sungai Siput Puteri Umno chief Norazura Abdul Karim for his party to give up the Perak parliamentary seat in the forthcoming GE15, no doubt an arrogant trait of the Puteri Umno leader who perhaps picked it up during the Umno assembly after seeing her seniors bashed Bersatu.

While MCA president Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong’s take on the issue of breaking with Bersatu is for any decision on the resignation of BN ministers following the withdrawal of Umno’s support for the government must be made collectively by all component parties.

So, it remains to be seen even if the final break with PN happens, it does not mean MCA will automatically agree unless all component parties agree.

So much is on Zahid’s plate and also the Umno Supreme Council, along with so many issues at stake that perhaps it is not too late for Zahid to do what he did before when Umno engineered the fall of the Bersatu-led Perak state government — a public apology to Muhyiddin and Hadi for the bashing against Bersatu and the threat to pull out completely from the PN coalition when Umno is not really ready to do so.

* Jamari Mohtar is Director of Media & Communications at EMIR Research, an independent think-tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based upon rigorous research.