It’s time for Umno to move on

The rumblings over sacked and suspended party members aside, it should forge ahead with its Barisan Nasional partners and find ways to prevail at the ballot box again.


THERE had been much chatter about Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s remarks that Umno is willing to allow sacked or suspended leaders return to the party.

Within the party, there was renewed hope that some popular figures may return to the party fold.

The comments, made by Ahmad Zahid in his capacity as party president at the Umno general assembly on June 10, generated quite a buzz.

But any glimmer of hope for the affected leaders to return was torpedoed after Khairy Jamaluddin, Shahril Hamdan and Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein declared that they would not appeal against the party’s disciplinary action on them.

Hishammuddin, who was suspended for six years in January, got the ball rolling just two days after Ahmad Zahid’s “invitation”.

The former party vice-president questioned the sincerity of Ahmad Zahid’s peace offering, besides describing it as nonsensical.

The next day, Khairy and Shahril declared in a podcast that they had “moved on” from Umno.

(Khairy was sacked while Shahril was suspended for six months.)

All three men shared the same contention – that there is no point in appealing to the Umno’ disciplinary board if they did not know why action was taken against them in the first place.

And in a way, their reluctance is understandable as an appeal could tarnish their credibility as it could be construed as an open admission of guilt.

While Ahmad Zahid’s peace offering could be seen as a gesture of magnanimity, it could be argued that it was also seen as an insult.

After all, the party president had cited Datuk Lokman Nor Adam as an example of “obedience” in his closing speech at the general assembly.

“If they love the party, they must abide by the decision of the party, just like what Lokman went through. He did not stab the party from the outside even though he was sacked,” said Ahmad Zahid.

The party membership of Lokman, who is now an Umno supreme council member, was reinstated in February. He was dismissed from the party in 2020 following his criticism of Ahmad Zahid over alleged remarks that Umno must work with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as PAS was doing so.

Ahmad Zahid’s reference to Lokman in his speech was quite a slap in the face to Khairy, who had been critical of Lokman on social media over the years.

“You better pray I don’t become president of Umno. First thing I’ll do is sack you for having the IQ of a carrot,” Khairy tweeted in November 2018 over an argument on the goods and services tax (GST).

His response came about after Lokman tweeted: “With this kind of finger-pointing attitude, don’t ever dream that you can ever become the president of Umno.”

Khairy’s tweet led to Lokman getting the moniker “lobakman” (carrot man).

But politics has taken a wild turn since then.

Now, Khairy has a new-found career as a radio DJ while Lokman is the newly appointed head of the unity government’s media secretariat.

The post-GE15 political landscape was brought up frequently by delegates during the Umno general assembly last week. There were repeated calls to rebrand the grand old coalition of Barisan Nasional.

To rejuvenate Barisan, some proposed that those who were suspended or sacked should be allowed a homecoming as long as they are still loyal to the party.

Such calls are understandable given the political clout of some of these leaders, who have a loyal following.

But even if Hishammuddin, Shahril and Khairy decide to appeal and return to Umno, will it be a good political decision?

For Nusantara Academy For Strategic Research senior fellow Azmi Hassan, it would be a bad political move.

He said Khairy, Shahril and Hishammuddin did not have enough support among supreme council members and grassroots to get back to Umno.

“An example is Tan Sri Isa Samad, who knows that there are groups in the supreme council who want him back. So, he made an appeal and we know what happened – he was accepted,” said Azmi.

“For Khairy, Shahril and Hishammuddin, the group that wants them out of Umno is way bigger than the group that wants them back.

“That’s the reason why no appeals will be made,” he said.

Azmi also believed Tan Sri Noh Omar would not appeal because he knows his predicament is very similar.

Noh, who was previously a supreme council member, was purged from the party at the same time as Khairy.

Whether or not sacked and suspended party members can return, perhaps Umno should move ahead and find another formula to prevail at the ballot box again.

With about 22,000 branches across the country, Umno has pretty much covered every single kampung in Malaysia.

But it is a waste if the party doesn’t fully utilise all of its branches to win the hearts of the young and old Malaysians again.

Umno cannot ignore the existential threat brought about by the rapidly evolving political landscape. And Barisan has also been seeing declining electoral support over the years.

GE15 was Barisan’s worst outing with only 30 seats won. That’s just 13.5% of the 222 parliament seats.

Umno delegates had spoken much about unity. This should apply to the entire Barisan coalition – all factions must set aside their differences and come together.

Strained ties between Umno and other Barisan component parties due to its cooperation with Pakatan Harapan has been an open secret since the formation of the unity government.

To move forward, all parties must show a united front.

With less than five years left till the next general election, Ahmad Zahid must heal the deeply divided coalition.

Otherwise, any opportunity to strengthen the party may be too late in the future.