Widening rift in Umno as spats get worse

“Joining Perikatan Nasional was a mistake. Not taking care of Muafakat Nasional was a mistake. Our plan to work with (opposition leader Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim) is a mistake. So many mistakes.”

(NST) – The rift within Umno is widening, even worse than what had transpired following the party and Barisan Nasional’s catastrophic loss in the 2018 General Election.

The ongoing bickering and public name-calling among Umno leaders, said sources, had highlighted the cracks within the country’s largest Malay-based party, which observers said can no longer be papered over despite its string of victories in recent state elections.

While some Umno leaders had argued that there was a clear distinction within the party on the power jostling and its preparations for the 15th General Election (GE15), there were concerns that the very public airing of the party’s dirty laundry was not doing it any favour.

One Umno leader, speaking to the New Straits Times on condition of anonymity, argued that the public squabbles had little bearing on the party’s internal GE15 preparations.

“You must understand that in Umno, a power struggle is one thing, while preparation for elections is another,” he said.

“We don’t mix the two no matter how much we want to replace some leaders because we don’t want to place our party in jeopardy just because we are unhappy with some people at the top.”

However, he acknowledged that the public spats could affect Umno’s image in the run-up to GE15.

Political observers had noted that Malaysians, who had become more politically literate, were closely watching social media for the latest dose of political drama, which could shape their perception of the players.

“I am, however, concerned with the possibility of us losing people’s support because they are getting tired of witnessing too much drama coming out from just one party.

“The people are smart. Surely they can evaluate things. They can see who is asking for an early GE15 and why they want it. If we lose their support, then our early preparations won’t mean a thing anymore,” the leader added.

On Facebook and WhatsApp, which remained the most popular mediums for Umno grassroots members, the resentment expressed between the different factions in the party was glaring.

While many believed that the battle lines were drawn between the factions of Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and his vice-president, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is prime minister, conversations among the grassroots indicated that deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, also known as “Tok Mat”, shared a key following.

One party member, who described himself as part of “Team Tok Mat”, said while he would like Umno to hold its party election this year, he nevertheless felt pressured to “agree with everyone” during the Umno General Assembly in March.

“I want Tok Mat to be the president, not those from the ‘court cluster’ (Umno leaders charged in court with corruption). However, since it is in our DNA to follow the president’s wish, I had to abide by what the leadership wanted, which was to postpone the internal elections.

“But that does not mean I am happy with the way things are now. Who knows who I will vote for in GE15,” he said.

This view was also echoed by several other grassroots members in Mohamad and Ismail Sabri’s factions, with one branch committee member forecasting that Zahid’s directions for Umno would bring the party to the “gallows”.

An Umno veteran told the New Straits Times that party leaders should consider the warning issued by Pasir Salak member of parliament Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman in the Umno supreme council meeting last year.

The veteran was referring to an audio recording during an Umno supreme council meeting, where Tajuddin was heard saying that the party would be doomed if it kept making the wrong decisions.

“I want to be frank with you here. There are many decisions we made in the past that have all gone wrong.

“Joining Perikatan Nasional was a mistake. Not taking care of Muafakat Nasional was a mistake. Our plan to work with (opposition leader Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim) is a mistake. So many mistakes.

“I cannot just follow anymore because previously, the consequences weren’t as big. This time, the danger is that Umno could be destroyed, so I have to speak openly,” Tajuddin said in the recording, which made waves after it was shared by Communications and Multimedia Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa on his Facebook page in July last year.

At the time, Tajuddin was cautioning the leadership against leaving the then PN-led government. The Umno veteran said the views expressed by Tajuddin were even more relevant now.

“A party can survive and flourish if all of its members and leaders work toward protecting it. But if we put all of our efforts to protect only certain embattled personalities, then we might as well declare a death sentence for ourselves,” he said.

“When will we learn that we can’t protect both the party and controversial personalities? We must choose and I can only hope everyone in the party will choose wisely.”