Is Zahid a suitable PM candidate?

Francis Paul Siah, Malaysiakini

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi must be in seventh heaven on Sept 24, Saturday, and why not. The Umno president was acquitted on 40 graft charges related to the Foreign Visa System (VLN) by the Shah Alam High Court only 24 hours earlier.

One could sense that Zahid, buoyed by the favourable verdict, was a different Umno leader now. He must have felt that he could now return to assert himself as the powerful party boss. A heavy burden has indeed been lifted from his shoulders.

Well, I could resonate with his statement on Facebook that “the 15th general election (GE15) is the best time to ‘punish’ party hoppers”.

“They know that their worst nightmare will begin when Parliament is dissolved. The party hoppers will be ‘punished’ by their voters”, he wrote in what must surely be a buoyant and triumphant mood.

I am on the same page as the Bagan Datuk MP here as I have repeatedly stated that come GE15, the first priority for Malaysians is to ensure that the Sheraton traitors and backstabbers are voted out.

Party-hoppers, traitors, backstabbers, and betrayers are the same. Even my regular usage of the terms – parasites, leeches, and scumbags – on such wayward, despicable politicians is nothing vulgar and considered journalistically acceptable.

But my agreement with Zahid’s Facebook statement ends when he mentioned that “Umno detractors are trying to sow discord inside the party, as they fear Umno’s uprising”.

I’m not too sure about an “Umno uprising” in the current state of instability in the party, that is if the term “uprising” is meant as gaining unity and strength with the ultimate goal of attaining power and forming the government.

I do not wish to think that Zahid was referring to a revolt or revolution in his take on “uprising”.

Everyone wants to be PM

What is clear now is that Zahid has returned to the days he would love a good fight with his political opponents. In fact, Umno insiders have started speculating that their president may now stake a claim for the premiership going into GE15. That is a fight Zahid would relish.

Seriously, there is nothing wrong for Zahid to aim for the PM’s post too. Everyone wants to be prime minister. Why, I can also declare that I want to be prime minister but the question I must ask myself is, what have I contributed to deserve the coveted post?

Zahid’s deputy in Umno, Mohamad Hasan, is also interested. He is gunning for the parliamentary seat of Rembau. Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin is also keen but like it or not, he has to join the queue. So too does Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, he is probably scheming on the sly on when to make his move.

Current PM Ismail Sabri Yaakob also wants to continue as the nation’s top executive after GE15. Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin is also eyeing a return to the top post.

Why, even Dr Mahathir Mohamad at 97, is also ready to come back as PM for the third time. Who are we to deny Mahathir his right to say he is prepared to be PM, not only for the third but also the fourth and fifth time? Mahathir as PM at 100. Why not?

In essence, all politicians hope to reach the pinnacle of power one day. So does Zahid, but the Umno president must also be honest and ask himself (as we are all posing the same question too) whether he is a suitable candidate for prime minister.

Zahid will surely feel he is more than qualified as he has been the deputy prime minister in the previous BN government.

But he must also be aware that being deputy prime minister does not mean you will also be prime minister one day. Ask Musa Hitam, Ghafar Baba, or Anwar Ibrahim – they were also Number Two in the past, but never Number One.

So, is Zahid a suitable PM candidate? Sorry to spoil your happy mood, but my answer is negative. This is why.

‘Suicidal’ to let Zahid lead Umno in GE15

Zahid’s personality is a setback. He is often viewed as the boisterous type, not charismatic and seriously lacks leadership qualities.

He is also extremely wealthy for a politician and he is not ashamed to flaunt it. His generosity to his party warlords and supporters is said to be his power mainstay.

His multitude of corruption and money laundering charges is no surprise to many in Umno or the government. Although he has been acquitted of some 40 charges last Friday, Zahid is still facing a separate trial for criminal breach of trust, corruption, and money laundering involving Yayasan Akalbudi. That trial is in the defence stage.

I don’t think a leader who is still facing so many criminal charges is a suitable PM candidate. I believe that Zahid himself is painfully aware of the obstacles in his path.

According to Sabah Umno leader Abdul Rahman Dahlan, it would be suicidal to allow Zahid to lead Umno and the BN coalition into GE15.

Rahman stressed, in a recent viral video, that no party in the world would let someone facing criminal charges lead it into an election.

I believe many in Umno are happy that Rahman has spoken on their behalf. His message to Zahid was clear and precise. Let another man lead Umno into the election.

Zahid is also not an English speaker, he cannot manage the language and personally, I don’t think anyone who cannot handle English should be my prime minister.

Interestingly, Zahid took garden leave for six months as Umno president when his legal issues first surfaced in 2018/2019 and his deputy, Mohamad, acted as president.

Everything was smooth sailing when Zahid was out of the scene. I doubt anything untoward will happen to Umno if Zahid is prepared to forgo his ambition to be a PM candidate.

Then, Zahid’s wish for an Umno uprising where a stronger, more dynamic and stable party will emerge may eventually come true.

FRANCIS PAUL SIAH is a veteran Sarawak editor and heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS). He can be reached at [email protected].