GE15: will Zahid’s politicking bring Umno to its knees?

A look at how party chief may have miscalculated support for Barisan Nasional

(The Vibes) – Defunct opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat’s – now Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) – war chant of the 2008 general election – “Anything But Umno/Asalkan Bukan Umno” – has made an unexpected comeback in the battlefields of the 15th general election.

However, this time, it is not the rallying cry for any coalition, but it seems to be the general sentiment on the ground among voters in northern Peninsular Malaysia and some other parts of the country.

Anger towards Zahid and co

Public anger is not so much directed at Umno as a party, but towards many leaders such as president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and those in his faction who have practically forced this election down people’s throats, after a series of by-elections and state elections.

A large segment of the public is suffering political fatigue and may decide to punish Umno for triggering an early election during the monsoon season, when floods have hit some parts of Malaysia. The 14th parliamentary term was only due to end in July 2023 and the general election has to be held before September 16.

“I think people are fed up. He (Zahid) is extending the power struggle. It’s dragging the people and the country down,” Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun told The Vibes and Getaran.

In fact, a number of Perikatan Nasional (PN) ministers had penned a letter begging the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to allow the 14th term to dissolve naturally in 2023, to protect the public from casting their ballots when their homes could be inundated with floods.

But since caretaker prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob was forced to make the request for Parliament’s dissolution on behalf of his party president, the king agreed and granted his assent.

To make matters worse for Umno, many of its own party members are upset with Zahid, especially after he removed strong contenders from defending their seats – including Arau incumbent Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, Pasir Salak’s Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman and Ketereh’s Tan Sri Annuar Musa.

“I am a party man. I am a loyal party man. But I face a dilemma. Personally, I want Zahid to lose.

“But how will this look on Umno if our president loses?” a Perak Umno lawyer told The Vibes and Getaran on condition of anonymity.

He explained that Zahid had effectively triggered a civil war in Umno by alienating these extremely powerful warlords – leading Shahidan to contest under the Perikatan Nasional (PN) banner against his former party in Perlis.

The source said he would not be surprised to see Malaysia’s northernmost state fall from Umno’s clutches, granting PN a victory.

“Zahid is lucky. He’s very lucky that Tajuddin is not throwing a tantrum. If Tajuddin decided to contest against Azwan Bro (the blogger moniker for Khairul Azwan Harun), we would lose Pasir Salak too. Right now, Tajuddin seems to be backing Azwan Bro.

“But at the same time, I won’t be surprised if Tajuddin will do something sneaky and instruct his men to vote for someone else during polling day,” said the party insider.

To top it off, Zahid himself may be on shaky ground, despite having been the Bagan Datuk incumbent for the last five terms since 1995.

When The Vibes visited the constituency, many residents complained that the area was actually underdeveloped despite the boasting of their incumbent MP who has held various cabinet posts, including deputy prime minister.

Whatever progress seems to be shallow and the lack of economic development in the area is tangible. Many constituents are still stuck doing low-income coastal fishing work while high- or decent-paying jobs are scarce to non-existent.