Umno looks split on Akmal’s actions, says analyst

Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani says the youth chief’s brand of politics will affect the party, particularly in the coming Sabah polls.

(FMT) – The Umno leadership may be divided over the actions of its youth chief Dr Akmal Saleh in response to KK Mart’s sale of socks with the word “Allah”, a political analyst says, warning of possible repercussions for the party at the state election to come in Sabah.

Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, formerly of Bower Group Asia, said the issue had to do with how the party should go about regaining Malay support, following the claim by Sabah Umno chief Bung Moktar Radin that Akmal had been ordered to stand down over the socks.

“It reflects how the party is divided in its direction and strategy to reclaim its position as the dominant Malay political party.

“Those in support of Akmal believe that identity politics is the key to regaining support from the Malay voters,” Asrul said.

But while Akmal’s actions could woo some support for himself and his party from among the Malays, the analyst warned that they could backfire on Umno when Sabah goes to the polls.

“Akmal has used this issue as a ticket to achieve political stardom. But while it may have given him some popularity, it could backfire on Umno, especially as the party prepares for the Sabah state elections due next year.

“Akmal’s continued brand of politics will drive voters in Sabah away from Umno,” he said, adding that the Merlimau assemblyman had dragged out the issue for too long.

Sabah and Sarawak have long been touted as more moderate and tolerant than their West Malaysian counterparts, an image often used by local parties in urging voters to reject peninsula-based parties.

Akmal had spearheaded a public boycott of KK Mart over its sale of some socks bearing the word “Allah”, for which the company had swiftly apologised. Its founder and director were later charged with wounding the feelings of Muslims.

The Umno Youth chief had remained defiant on his call for a boycott despite being urged to stand down, including by the party’s leadership, according to Bung.

However, on Tuesday, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Ibrahim met Akmal, Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan, Melaka Umno chief Ab Rauf Yusoh and DAP deputy secretary-general Liew Chin Tong to discuss “recent developments related to race and religion”.

After the meeting, Akmal said he would uphold the king’s command “to safeguard harmony and preserve the sanctity of Islam so that the ongoing polemics can be alleviated”.

FMT has reached out to Akmal to ask if he is bringing his boycott campaign to an end.

Meanwhile, Azmil Tayeb of Universiti Sains Malaysia said some in Umno’s Supreme Council might not want to upset their partners in the coalition government, including their Borneo allies and those whose vote bank consist of non-Malays.

He agreed that there were some in Umno who, like Akmal, believed that “playing the hero” to defend the special position of the Malays and Islam was the best way to regain the community’s support.

However, he said Bung’s response reflected unease with Akmal’s approach to the issue.

“The KK Mart fiasco doesn’t play well in Borneo, which doesn’t share similar concerns,” he said.