Umno’s top two posts going uncontested offers some relief for Anwar Ibrahim’s unity government, say analysts

(NST) – Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s ‘unity’ government has bought itself a little bit of time after Umno decided that the top two posts in the party will go uncontested in the upcoming party polls, analysts say.

However, this reprieve is only temporary because Umno has yet to have their party polls where those against the current leadership are sure to make an attempt to unseat president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and his deputy Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan.

Ahmad Zahid is the current deputy prime minister, Barisan Nasional (BN) chairman and holds the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development portfolio while Hasan better known as Tok Mat is the Minister of Defence.

After the 15th general elections (GE15), Anwar — in order to form the government — needed to work with Umno and has given them six Cabinet posts including Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Industry ministries.

Ahmad Zahid had said he would leave it to delegates to decide whether the two top posts in the party should be contested in the upcoming Umno elections, which must be held by May 19 this year, and over the weekend they decided the top posts would not be contested.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun when asked if this was good for Anwar Ibrahim said: “Yes it hopefully can prolong the lifespan of this shaky coalition government, as Ahmad Zahid’s party leadership position is secured. A different Umno leader could sway the party towards the other side.”

Universiti Sains Malaysia political science professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, however, said it was best for Anwar Ibrahim to distance himself from Ahmad Zahid and Umno’s “habits.”

“There’ll be a short term effect and long term effects. In the short term, Umno and by extension BN’s support for Anwar Ibrahim’s government is guaranteed. This augurs well for stability.

“In the long term, Zahid’s detractors in the party have been given fodder to attack his credibility on the basis of his avoiding competition through allegedly dubious means (refer for example to Khairy Jamaluddin’s recent TikTok video).

“It won’t be good for Anwar’s reputation, Zahid being his loyalist and deputy in government. There’ll be further trouble if Zahid is found guilty of the corruption charges levelled against him. It’s a case of short term relief but long term potential trouble for a unity government that supposedly upholds democracy,” Ahmad Fauzi said.

Former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin openly came out and announced his interest in contesting for the presidency. He was met with a cold handshake by Zahid at Umno’s general assembly, and the TikTok video has since gone viral.

In addition, Ahmad Zahid is also facing numerous ongoing court cases. He faces a total of 47 charges of abuse, corruption, and money laundering.

According to Syaza Shukri, assistant professor of political science at International Islamic University Malaysia, Ahmad Zahid and Tok Mat securing their positions in Umno was the unity government’s first hurdle to overcome.

“It definitely guarantees the stability of the unity government for at least the next few months. It was the first hurdle for the unity government — whether Zahid will survive. Now the longevity of the unity government depends on a) the outcome of Zahid’s court cases and b) the outcome of the state elections this year. So yes, for now, at least for the next four months, Anwar’s government appears stable,” she told Malay Mail.

State elections this year must be called latest by August and September for the six states under Perikatan Nasional (PN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH).

Selangor, Penang, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu will be “extremely competitive” and results may give rise to new alliances.

“If PH/BN is not able to win four out of six states, it would really destabilise the unity government because the Malay electorate would question if they should switch loyalty to PN which would be the biggest bloc representing the Malays. It would put the unity government under a lot of pressure,” Syaza explained.

Meanwhile, as Umno’s polls loom, Senior Fellow at Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research Azmi Hassan said there could still be contests for other top positions like its Supreme Council.

He said those who were opposed to Ahmad Zahid would try to raise their profile and influence by contesting these top posts as well as for heads of divisions and branches nationwide.

“Other roles like those in the supreme council, vice presidents’ posts, women’s chief, Puteri Umno or Umno Youth including those in the division and branches can all be contested.

“So while the top two incumbents are strong characters in Anwar Ibrahim’s unity government, I’m sure those who want to unseat these incumbents will get their candidates to run for the top echelon posts,” Azmi said.

“This will not guarantee Anwar Ibrahim longevity if this group can unseat the top two and hold those critical positions in Umno. It’ll be the beginning of a power struggle. So in terms of stability it is not 100 per cent guaranteed despite there being no contest for the top two posts in Umno,” he added.

In GE15, PN won 73 seats to become the second-strongest coalition in the country, while the once-dominant BN fell to just 30 seats, down from the 79 it managed to retain in 2018 when it was voted out of power for the first time in over six decades.