Zahid postpones party elections to stay as Umno President

The smiling tiger struck back the next day. He decided to move the goalposts and it was announced that Umno would postpone its party elections to 2023.

By Joceline Tan, The Star

DATUK Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was all smiles when dismissing the latest rebellion building up against him as a “cartoon story”.

But the smile did not reach his eyes. The man, sometimes described as the smiling tiger, was definitely not amused.

The rebellion, comprising 25 MPs and initiated by Padang Rengas MP Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, is seen as an attempt to challenge the Umno president’s authority by putting up the ambitious Sembrong MP Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein as an alternate leader.

It is novel and audacious, almost akin to setting up a parallel leadership and a way of telling Ahmad Zahid that it is time to go.

But the rebels or Kluster MP, as they are known, were wrong if they thought Ahmad Zahid would take it lying down.

The smiling tiger struck back the next day. He decided to move the goalposts and it was announced that Umno would postpone its party elections to 2023.

If the postponement goes through, it means that Ahmad Zahid will remain as Umno president till then and will be calling the shots over who will contest the next general election.

Nazri and Hishammuddin are big personalities but the history of Umno has shown that it is never easy to go against the president.

But to have 25 out of 41 Umno and Barisan Nasional MPs signing letters of consent to support Hishammuddin is embarrassing for Ahmad Zahid.

The group, said Nazri, resorted to such action because of Ahmad Zahid’s alleged collaboration with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, and more recently, for not going through the supreme council before issuing his 14-day ultimatum for the government to convene Parliament.

“We don’t trust Zahid anymore. We are giving Hishammuddin the mandate to decide what’s best for us,” said Nazri.

On why the group did not pick Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob as the spokesman, Nazri said Hishammuddin is articulate, knows what the group wants and is not bound by party hierarchy.

The group would have more clout if headed by Ismail, who is the top Umno vice-president and the designated spokesman for the Umno ministers during supreme council meetings.

Ismail, when contacted, said: “I have not signed anything. They did not approach me.”

The Bera MP also indicated that he is not in favour of what the group is doing.

“If they want to challenge the leadership, do it properly through a party election,” said Ismail.

The signatories to the Kluster MP are still a tightly-wrapped secret. One of the MPs said the letter she signed merely rejected any cooperation with Anwar.

“I would never sign anything to push out the president. Those who want to do that, please go by the front door, the proper way,” said the MP.

It is learnt the list has only two ministers, including Hishammuddin, and a sizeable number of deputy ministers.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong said he did “not sign anything”.

Neither has Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa, despite his epic fallout with Ahmad Zahid.

“No one asked for my signature,” said Annuar, who is apparently tied up in his mission to make Kuala Lumpur the first city to achieve 80% vaccination by August.

However, it is understood that although Annuar wants the president to go, he is not interested in playing “ninja or samurai” to Hishammuddin.

Meanwhile, the backlash against the rebellion has started with calls for those in the Kluster MP to get out of the party.

YouTube videos of Nazri openly urging Umno to support Anwar for the premiership are being circulated, presumably to imply that he is a hypocrite given that he was a supporter of Anwar when Pakatan Harapan was in power.

Meanwhile, Hishammuddin has been accused of trying to hijack the Umno leadership and pro-Umno blogs are calling for his sacking.

The Foreign Minister has lodged a police report against fake documents claiming he has the numbers to be the next prime minister.

Rightly or wrongly, the whole thing has come across as an attempt to propel Hishammuddin towards the prime minister post.

The party is unsettled by what has happened. The opinion in Umno is that Ahmad Zahid is an impediment to the party’s recovery but Umno members are not comfortable with this unorthodox way of toppling the president.

The question now is whether it will pick up momentum.

“The president has made too many enemies and mistakes,” said former Putrajaya deputy chief Tun Faizal Ismail Aziz.

Annuar was the first to rebel, followed by Arau MP Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim and Padang Besar MP Datuk Zahidi Zainal Abidin.

“This new push comes with big names but why the need for a spokesperson?” said Faizal.
Hishammuddin is taking a big risk as the central figure for the Kluster MP.

Despite his high-flying portfolio, he has been like a lost soul in Umno. He does not have a major party post to give him a national leadership role in Umno. He was not around for the party during its lowest ebb in 2018 and stories of his alleged “betrayal” have resurfaced to discredit the Kluster MP.

If his group gathers momentum, it will give him a shot at the party presidency but his career will be in jeopardy if it flops.

Hishammuddin is away in Egypt but the group met on Thursday night, when they unanimously rejected Ahmad Zahid’s leadership.

It is unclear how they intend to pull him down because the president of Umno is elected by thousands of Umno delegates, not by a few dozen MPs.

Moreover, the two key figures in the group are not exactly leaders who can bring on a grassroots tsunami against the leadership and Ahmad Zahid will not go down without a fight.

Stormy days lie ahead for Umno.

“The party is fractured, I can see that it is everyone for himself. But the situation is not irreconcilable, it has not reached a point of no return,” said supreme council member Datuk Seri Rahman Dahlan.