Umno Youth campaign kicks off after fiasco

There is a more level playing field in the contest for the Umno Youth leadership despite allegations of hidden hands trying to manipulate the race.

Joceline Tan, The Star

THE political fiasco was the talk of the Umno Youth wing because nothing like that had ever happened in an Umno Youth contest.

It started with Kubang Pasu Umno Youth head Datuk Hasmuni Hassan announcing that he was going for the Umno Youth leadership in the party election.

Instead of stopping there, he went on to name his choice of deputy chief as well as who he would appoint as his secretary-general, information chief and treasurer.

The backlash was immediate because it was presumptuous of Hasmuni to fill the key posts before he or those named had won.

Although Hasmuni topped the exco contest in the last party polls in 2018, he was not seen as Umno Youth chief material.

Hasmuni’s political aspirations were in tatters before the race could begin and he has since pulled out from the Youth contest to run for a supreme council seat.

Meanwhile, Melaka politician Dr Akmal Saleh, whom Hasmuni had named as his choice for secretary-general, is now running for the Umno Youth leadership.

There had obviously been an urgent reshuffling behind the scenes and to signal that it was an amicable rearrangement, Hasmuni was by Dr Akmal’s side when the latter submitted his nomination papers at the Umno headquarters last Monday.

It was an embarrassing botch-up and fingers were pointed at outgoing Youth chief Datuk Seri Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki for trying to consolidate his influence over the next line-up.

It was also seen as an attempt to block out other qualified and experienced persons like Khairil Azwan Harun of Pasir Salak who lost the top post to Asyraf in the 2018 party polls by only 10 votes.

Dr Akmal will be up against Subang division chief Senator Dato Armand Azha Abu Hanifah, Paya Besar MP Dato Shahar Abdullah and Federal Territory Youth chief Mohamed Nizham Abdullah Hamidi.

The Umno Youth contest used to hog the limelight because it is seen as the face of Umno’s future. Almost every prime minister from Umno had once been Umno Youth chief.

Even Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was once the Umno Youth chief.

“People looked to the Youth wing as the de facto line-up of future leaders. It was a footstool to the top,” said an aide to a former minister.

But, said the above aide, it is now a diminished force with so many Youth candidates wiped out in the general election.

None of the candidates for the top post make people sit up and take notice. They are known inside Umno but little known outside the party.

For instance, Armand, one of the more familiar faces in the top race, is better known for being friendly and cracking jokes than for standing up for issues that matter to young Malays. Moreover, his nickname is “Porsche Man” because he apparently owns two Porsches.

Amid the slim pickings, Dr Akmal, 34, has emerged as the one to watch.

The Russia-trained medical doctor is Melaka’s state exco for health and had provided translation assistance for the government when the Malaysian plane was shot down over Ukraine.

He has a lively social media personality and also speaks good English, a requisite for any Youth leader who aims to shape national public opinion.

But Tanah Merah Youth chief Ikmal Hazlan Ikmal Hisham stands out in the race for the No 2 post in the Youth wing.

Ikmal Hazlan, who will turn 33 next week, is well-educated, with an unbroken record of activity and contributions to the party since his student days as chairman of Kelab Umno London.

However, the fact that his father, Datuk Seri Ikmal Hisham Abdul Aziz, is Bersatu’s MP for Tanah Merah has been used against him.

He was called up by the disciplinary committee a few days ago over a family photo of him, his wife and their daughters, his younger brother and their father taken last October near the Defence Ministry where his father was the then-deputy minister. He has explained that it was a family occasion.

“Umno is the only party for me. Ask my friends, they know that Umno fits into my outlook on politics. I have never once considered Bersatu,” said Ikmal Hazlan.

The other candidates for the No. 2 post are Hairi Mohd Shah, who is Johor Youth chief and a state exco member and newbie Datuk Nazifuddin Najib.

The Youth wing under Asyraf’s leadership lost so much clout after being crushed by the green wave in the general election.

Asyraf offered to take responsibility and resign but it is understood that Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi asked him to stay on and put him in charge of the Unity Government secretariat.

Asyraf has a background in Islamic finance but preferred to harp on his religious credentials which failed to impress young people outside of Umno.

He has lost in three general elections, rejected twice in his home state of Kelantan and losing again in Gerik in the general election.

In short, he does not have a strong track record and should not try to impose his preference on the next leadership line-up.

Losers should not determine the next winners. Let the Youth delegates choose who they believe will best serve their aspirations.

What is important though is that the next Youth chief and his line-up need to be able to work with the president.

The wing does not have to agree with everything the president wants but it has to support and complement the top leadership while addressing the needs and concerns of young Malays.