Dangerous times for UMNO

UMNO now at the mercy of Zahid

Murray Hunter

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 the BN to the Perikatan Nasional (PN).

In a second purge in January, Zahid expelled or suspended 44 UMNO members. These included the expulsion of Khairy Jamaludin, and Nor 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 side lines.

Nor Omar was the former UMNO Selangor divisional head has a lot of personal grassroots support in the state. The sacking of Nor Omar 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 electoral fortunes of UMNO 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 writing on the wall for UMNO’s 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 UMNO Wanita leader 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

Zahid as president of UMNO 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 the 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.