Love it or loathe it, Umno is in charge

K. Parkaran, Free Malaysia Today

Some Malaysians rejoiced, while others were worried when Umno’s hegemony of Malaysian politics was broken at the 2018 general election. The DAP in particular had been calling for this for decades, saying the complete control Umno had in the government had led to too much abuse of power.

Little did people realise that Umno’s stranglehold on all aspects of Malaysian life had been broken by a group of former Umno leaders, namely Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar Ibrahim and Muhyiddin Yassin among others.

It was indeed aided by DAP but the masterminds were all former Umno leaders.

Subsequently, Mahathir got a good number of Umno MPs to switch to Bersatu, where he was then chairman. But there was pressure from within Pakatan Harapan coalition partners who were against party hopping after an election.

As a result, the move did not end the way Mahathir had wanted, with Umno’s destruction.

One of his close aides told me at the time that the former prime minister knew the only way of making sure Umno were not back in control would be to get most of its MPs to switch. The wily politician knew that if this was not done, Umno would resurrect itself and take control again.

We all know now that he was right.

Mahathir apparently was not too happy that DAP and PKR had opposed his plans to get the Umno MPs to switch. But PKR president Anwar was quietly said to be also wooing Umno leaders to get his much proclaimed numbers several times.

Of course PAS had already wooed Umno by this time, forming the two-party Muafakat Nasional in the name of Malay-Muslim unity. The Islamic party knew that only with Umno’s support could it taste federal power. And sure enough it did.

After the Sheraton Move which saw the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government, and the Muhyiddin-led Perikatan Nasional taking over, a charm offensive began to woo Umno MPs with offers of posts in GLCs among others with the ultimate aim of bringing them into Bersatu.

Eventually, all of them were proven wrong. Umno, with experienced leaders who can politically out-manoeuvre others, is back in charge. They are obviously calling the shots now with the party’s vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob at the helm.

He is walking on a tightrope as he is only a vice-president. He knows it’s the party president who signs the ticket to enable him to stand in elections. So he has to watch his step.

When the prime minister uses the Umno general assembly to announce a slew of major government policies without any reservation, you know the party is in total control with others at its mercy.

Among other measures, Ismail announced the RM1,500 minimum wage, a new investment of RM32 billion for developing the Automative High-Technology Valley at Proton City in Tanjong Malim, Perak, making Malay as the second language of Asean, and setting up a culture and language unit in all foreign missions.

Then he went on to say that Umno’s top five leaders would have a say on when Parliament would be dissolved, completely ignoring its major partners in the government like Bersatu and PAS.

If this wasn’t enough, the Umno supreme council decided that the government should not extend its memorandum of understanding with PH when it ends in July.

Shouldn’t the Cabinet have the final say on this, many are asking.

But Ismail said he will abide by the party’s decision. I guess he would have no choice but to agree or face admonishment by his party, which has pacified him by naming him PM candidate for GE15.

It could well be a red herring to show that all is well within Umno and prove that the bunch of leaders in the so-called “court cluster” are not going to grab the post, (although many do not rule this out).

But whether it happens is left to be seen. The Johor debacle, where poster boy Hasni Mohammad was ditched and not made the menteri besar as promised, because of some hidden hands, is fresh in everyone’s mind.

To dislodge Umno again from the throne, PH has to combine forces with the very party and leaders who stabbed it in the back and caused its tenure to last a mere 22 months. The treachery, backstabbing and racial bigotry that transpired is still fresh in everyone’s mind.

Even if the leaders agree for the sake of political expediency, the grassroots are not in the mood to forgive. The PH parties will pay a heavy price in GE15 if they sleep with their enemies again.

Knowing the passion Bersatu and PAS have for Malay-Muslim unity and supremacy, Sheraton Move 2 is bound to happen.

In that regard, an excerpt from a speech by the late Lee Kuan Yew, founding prime minister of Singapore, comes to my mind: “Malaysia is unlikely to change. Even if it succeeds, everything will only return to the original point, because the issue of racial conflicts cannot be resolved.”

With so much distrust and disunity among opposition parties and the thirst among a few for the prime minister’s post, Umno is going to reign supreme yet again for a long time, albeit with a smaller number of MPs.

Once again, it will control the direction of the nation. Soon. Period.