Rift deepens in Umno after no-contest decision

Joceline Tan, The Star

CAN one win and yet lose at the same time?

That may be what happened at the climactic Umno general assembly.

Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan were the two big winners having secured their positions in the party without a contest.

Yet, when they emerged to face the media, the pair came across as rather subdued and defensive. They also appeared uncomfortable to be where they were and fidgeted in their seats.

Ahmad Zahid, the incredible political animal that he is, had got what he wanted and Tok Mat – as his deputy is known by – was his accomplice.

They knew the no-contest motion, especially the way it was slipped in during the debate session, was not popular even though two-thirds of those in Dewan Merdeka had stood up to endorse it.

No-contest moves are welcomed only when the leaders have accomplished something big for the party and the last general election had been a disaster for Umno.

“If it was a team that had won the World Cup, no one would have opposed the leadership,” said Umno Youth exco member Bastien Onn.

Bastien, who is also the Segamat Youth chief, was one of those who opposed the no-contest motion.

Up on the stage where the supreme council was seated, former prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob also remained seated when the vote for the no-contest motion was called.

“Such an important decision, but it was over in a few seconds. We tried but failed,” said Bastien.

Umno leaders say that a contest for the top posts would split the party, but it seems like the no-contest resolution has created its own split because the younger set in Umno believe in the need to uphold the party constitution.

Johor led the way in calling for a contest because Sembrong MP Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein was said to be eyeing the top job.

The Federal Territory (FT) came along because Datuk Seri Johari Ghani, the Titiwangsa MP and FT Umno chairman, was expected to team up with Khairy Jamaluddin for the two top posts.

That would have been an awesome combination but all those dreams have been shattered.

Ahmad Zahid and Tok Mat are entrenched for the next five years.

Ahmad Zahid, who had earlier declared he was open to be challenged, obviously did not want to take any chances against Johari or Hishammuddin.

Johari, who has a credible reputation on economic matters, has been gaining traction among the younger delegates who believe Umno needs a drastic change if it is to climb out of the ravine it has fallen into.

Everyone kept saying Ahmad Zahid would win hands-down, but the Deputy Prime Minister’s confidence was shaken by several recent events.

One involved Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim reversing Ahmad Zahid’s decision to reappoint his arch loyalist Datuk Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub as the Felcra chairman.

The other was more spectacular – the failed Umno-Warisan coup in Sabah. The coup would have succeeded had PKR assemblymen in the state not thrown their support behind Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor.

Ahmad Zahid was also said to be very upset when the prosecution filed an appeal on his corruption acquittal barely one week before the deadline.

It was seen as Anwar saying: Don’t play-play with me.

The ongoing corruption trials are topmost in Ahmad Zahid’s mind and he now has doubts that Anwar will stand by him through thick and thin.

Do the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister trust each other? Does Anwar realise that his relationship with Ahmad Zahid may not be sustainable?

“Zahid is not out of the woods yet,” said a Kelantan Umno official.

The Umno election is expected to be held after Hari Raya Puasa.

“The contests for the three vice-presidents posts, the supreme council and at the division levels will be intense.

“Ahmad Zahid needs to ensure that his team grabs these posts to strengthen his hold over the party otherwise he will be a captain without a crew,” said the above Kelantan Umno official.

Then comes the litmus test, that is, the state elections.

How is Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan going to carve out the seats to contest, especially in Selangor, Penang and Negri Sembilan? Will the new partners take on each other?

And if Negri Sembilan slips away from Barisan again, Tok Mat who is the state chief, will be on shaky ground.

Tok Mat came in as a white knight in 2018 and was touted as a future prime minister but his role in the no-contest controversy has dented his popularity.

The more thinking group in Umno say that more Malays will run away from Umno.

“My party is dying,” said a former aide of the Perak Mentri Besar.

In fact, these were some of the comments heard at the end of the Umno assembly: We have lost GE16. We are going backwards. Umno is gone. End of democracy.

There was much doom and gloom. The mood was low and that explains why the big winners did not feel like real winners.