Zahid risks ouster from Umno over MAHB deal, says analyst

Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid says Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s backing of the share sale exercise may further damage his popularity within the party.

(FMT) – Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s insistence that the party is not opposed to the sale of shares in Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) to a company linked to BlackRock could hurt his popularity within the party, say analysts.

Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid of Universiti Sains Malaysia said Zahid’s stand on the matter might even lead to a push within the party to oust him.

He was commenting after Zahid claimed that Umno’s position was consistent with Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s stand on the MAHB deal.

In doing so, the Umno president contradicted his own deputy, Mohamad Hasan, also known as Tok Mat, who said Umno ministers had pleaded with sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd not to sell MAHB shares to Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP).

Umno Youth chief Dr Akmal Saleh also previously called for the deal to be scrapped.

“The impression one gets is that Tok Mat and Akmal better represent the grassroots’ sentiments in Umno, whereas Zahid is merely appeasing his ‘boss’ in government and long-time mentor, Anwar,” Fauzi told FMT.

He suggested however that the discord between Zahid and Mohamad might be more apparent than real.

“On the one hand, Zahid’s move was to continually secure the prime minister’s favour for Umno, and on the other hand, Tok Mat’s response was to assure Umno’s grassroots supporters that the party leaders have not forsaken the struggle for Islam and Muslims,” he said.

International Islamic University Malaysia’s Syaza Shukri said Zahid was keeping to his position to appear “more pro-unity government”.

“This, of course, will invite more ire from within Umno as Zahid might be seen as being too pro-Anwar,” she said.

Nevertheless, Syaza said Zahid’s position within Umno was relatively secure as he had no real rival for the party’s top post.

“The party may criticise him but realistically, he will be able to hold on to the top post for some time.”

Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, formerly of BowerGroupAsia, said Zahid would only be ousted from Umno if the party loses more seats in the next general election, rendering him no longer strategically important to Anwar.

No effect on Sungai Bakap by-election

Both Fauzi and Syaza predicted that Perikatan Nasional would use Zahid’s stand on the MAHB deal to rally Malay voters against the unity government in the upcoming by-election for the Sungai Bakap state seat.

However, Asrul said the Sungai Bakap by-election was very localised while Umno was neither the main nor co-driver of the unity government’s election campaign.

“Zahid is a non-issue. I don’t think it will lead to a boycott of PKR’s campaign, but it will make it harder to woo fence sitters in rural seats,” he said.

PN is fielding Nibong Tebal PAS deputy chief Abidin Ismail in the by-election, while Pakatan Harapan has named former teacher Joohari Ariffin from PKR as its candidate.

“Eventually, the bread-and-butter issues will drive the voters. Similarly, it was not the 1MDB scandal but the goods and services tax and the high cost of living that led to Barisan Nasional’s defeat in the 2018 election,” Asrul said.

Sungai Bakap is a mixed seat with a 59.4% Malay electorate. Chinese comprise 22.5%, Indians 17.4% and others 0.7%.

Voters will head to the polls on July 6, with early voting set for July 2.

The seat was vacated following the death of assemblyman Nor Zamri Latiff from PAS on May 24.