Umno leaders jostle for starting positions as GE15 push begins

The heat is on in Umno as members jostle for seats and party positions as well as trying to pick the “right horse” as they clamour for a general election to be held this year, according to party insiders.

(FMT) – Two Supreme Council members told FMT that there are two factions within the party: those close to vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is the prime minister, hope he will speed up party elections as soon as possible; the other faction, aligned to party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, wants party polls to be held after the next general election (GE15).

“If Zahid remains the Umno president, they fear they might not be picked as candidates,” one Umno leader said.

Another Umno leader who did not want to be named said some party members are eyeing a general election by the middle of the year, which they feel would be the right time.

“From the Melaka and Sarawak election results, we know Pakatan Harapan is at its weakest. Bersatu is at its weakest, too.

“Barisan Nasional has a strong track record of improving the economy. All this adds up to calling for elections quickly as it would be in Umno’s favour,” he said.

He acknowledged that “backstabbing is expected to be at an all-time high” as leaders continue to be divided into two camps.

“MPs are aware they need to back the right horse because Umno is expected to have a bigger win in GE15 and they do not want to be left out,” he said.

Umno’s dominance of national politics was first diminished in 2008 when the opposition coalition, then called Pakatan Rakyat, won power in five major states, followed by its disastrous outing in 2018 when the party and its BN partners lost power at the federal level.

Former Universiti Teknologi Malaysia lecturer Azmi Hassan feels that a general election will be held this year.

“The concern over the pandemic is now low, while the government is still unable to draw up firm public policies because they were not a democratically elected government,” he said, making reference to the current government coming to power after the Bersatu-led Perikatan Nasional government fell through a loss of its majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

He said Umno believed the party now commands enough public support to ensure a big victory, in contrast to the 2018 results.

But the issue of Umno’s internal elections remains unresolved. “Those who are not backing Zahid are at risk of being dropped by the president for GE15. They want Zahid to be replaced as soon as possible. The push is strong,” he said.

He said Zahid would likely “wipe out his enemies in Umno” and his rivals in the other camp know that Zahid is still in a strong position despite his liabilities.

Zahid is standing trial on 47 charges of money laundering and criminal breach of trust involving funds from Yayasan Akalbudi, and accepting bribes for various projects during his tenure as the home minister.

Azmi also said the feel-good factor of passing anti-hopping laws in the next parliamentary session in March or before GE15 will also help in gaining public trust.

“It will be similar to when the Dewan Rakyat passed the constitutional amendments based on the Malaysia Agreement 1963. Such feel-good factors help to gain support,” he said.

Furthermore, the government may try to show falling hospitalisation figures as an indication that Covid-19 is under control, following a suggestion by the US government’s top medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci.

“These figures may instil public confidence,” he said.

Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs predicted a confrontation between the two Umno camps is likely to surface soon. “Inevitably, confrontation will surface,” he told FMT.

Oh said it would be natural for Ismail to force a party election while he is still the prime minister.

“Both the camps may use various tactics including offering positions for support,” he said.