Could Umno end up like Gerakan or MCA?

The fate of the party is in the hands of one person – its president, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

(FMT) – With the Registrar of Societies (RoS) approving the motion passed at the 2022 Umno general assembly for the offices of the president and deputy president to be uncontested in the coming party elections, the fate of Umno is now in the hands of one person.

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has eliminated most of the party’s warlords who were opposed to him. Before the last general election, Zahid dropped a number of Umno leaders, including Shahidan Kassim, Annuar Musa, Zahidi Zainal Abidin and Tajuddin Abdul Rahman.

Shahidan went on to join PAS, contest his seat of Arau under the PAS banner, and almost obtained a clean sweep of state and federal seats in the state, taking Perlis from Barisan Nasional to Perikatan Nasional.

In a second purge in January, Zahid expelled or suspended 44 members. These included the expulsion of Khairy Jamaluddin and Noh Omar, and the suspension of Hishammuddin Hussein for six years. Former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has taken himself out of the ring and decided not to defend his vice-presidency, and will stand on the sidelines.

Noh, the former Selangor Umno chief, has a lot of personal grassroots support in the state. His sacking may have deep consequences come the Selangor state election.

Zahid in practical control of Umno

Zahid, who still faces 47 charges of corruption, breach of trust and money laundering, now has effective control of Umno. However, the party’s electoral fortunes were severely damaged during the last federal election, where its parliamentary representation fell from 54 in 2018 to 26 in 2022. In 2013, Umno had won 88 seats in Parliament. Umno today has a little over one quarter of the seats in Parliament it had a decade ago.

If Umno’s performance is replicated in the coming state elections, the party will almost be wiped out at state level. Such a performance would be the writing on the wall for its future. The party would become almost irrelevant electorally.

The only relevance Umno would have in federal politics is the party would be the platform Zahid used to gain the position of deputy prime minister within the unity government.

With the Umno elections due later this month, a lot of political hacks and has-beens are returning to the fray to stand for key posts. One such example is former Wanita chief and minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil. Shahrizat was infamous in what came to be known as the “cow condo scandal”. Her popularity within the Malay heartlands would now be very questionable.

Umno returning to a feudalistic leadership

As Umno president, Zahid has shown himself to be undemocratic, unjust, and even unfair. The attempts to oust him immediately after the last general election met with decisive action that will deter any other moves against him.

With RoS supporting the motion to suspend party elections for the top two posts, Zahid has unquestionable control. This effectively cements Umno’s trajectory into oblivion. Any opportunities to reform the party have gone with those expelled. Zahid is also acting counter to his speech on the hustings at Padang Serai, where he spoke about a new era for Umno.

Zahid will get away with this. In Malay culture, openly questioning the leader is a taboo. The rank and file membership has also seen what happens to those who oppose Zahid. This doesn’t mean there is no disagreement with Zahid. Those who disagree, do so in silence, become inactive, or move to another political party.

Need to go back to the original spirit of Umno

It is unfortunate that those who remain within Umno remain in a state of denial. The old spirit of Umno being a party for Malays, culture and Islam has been lost, with the influx of corporate opportunists.

The principles of the old Umno were what appealed to voters in the Malay heartlands. This has now gone and been taken up by PN. If bringing back the old principles is the mission of the old guard, should they pick up enough party posts, the original spirit of Umno may be able to be rekindled.

However, this will be at the cost of up-and-coming young turks, who may be pushed out. The great hope for Umno in these coming elections is that there will be a good blend of old and new leaders, who can define a concept of “Malayness” that the heartlands will embrace. If not, Umno will go the way of Gerakan and MCA.

This will be an interesting party congress.