Waiting for the big Umno decision

When the Umno political bureau decided last week that the party is considering pulling out its support for Perikatan Nasional and setting new conditions for any continuation of political cooperation with the coalition, it was seen as a “threat” to the government of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

Yes, I’ve written about that in a previous article but what I want to say here now is that the perceived “threat” can’t get much clearer than what Umno vice president Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin said in his latest statement issued on Oct 17 Sunday.

Without mincing words, Khaled described the relationship between Umno and the Muhyiddin-led Bersatu as “no trust, only mutual respect” and even the mutual respect is growing thin.

And he openly admitted that Umno had never trusted Bersatu as the party was formed with the intention of “destroying Umno” for it to be replaced by Bersatu itself.

Saying Umno wants to be respected as a real partner in political cooperation and not “just a decoration”, Khaled said the choice now is in the hands of the prime minister.

“He (Muhyiddin) knows what Umno wants and he knows what Umno is capable of doing.”

He went on to say, “Umno can strengthen Perikatan Nasional and Umno can bring it down. In fact, Umno can expedite the general election (although this is the last option due to the COVID-19 pandemic).”

So, if that’s not “threatening” enough, I don’t know what Umno, or some quarters in Umno, is said (at one point or another at least) to be supporting Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his bid to take over Putrajaya. And if Umno is using that as a leverage to get better deals from Muhyiddin, it seems to be working.

According to Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan, the prime minister, who many believe has lost or about to lose his razor-thin majority in the Parliament, has reached out to Umno in an attempt to “rescue the Perikatan Nasional government”.

Ahmad Maslan told the media a few days ago that Muhyiddin has asked for Umno to state its demands and this was conveyed to Umno in a letter sent via Bersatu secretary-general Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin.

He said Umno had listed its new conditions for continuing political cooperation with Perikatan Nasional but will not submit that to Muhyiddin just yet, not until the Umno supreme council makes the final decision “as what to add or gauge other views on the mater”.

And this will be done at the supreme council meeting on Oct 20 Tuesday, said to be held somewhere in Pahang, as Kuala Lumpur where the Umno headquarters is located is under CMCO.

Hence, Tuesday’s meeting is an all-important session where big decisions will be made. More about this in a while as now we are hearing of talks, or should it be rumors, of a cabinet reshuffle said to be announced on Monday.

A report by Mingguan Malaysia said the prime minister is mulling the reshuffle which could see more Umno leaders coming into the cabinet as Muhyiddin attempts to appease a restless Umno.

Federal minister and Bersatu supreme council member Datuk Seri Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof, however, is on record saying there is no need for a cabinet reshuffle at the moment, as “the government is functioning well”.

He claimed that he was at a meeting with Muhyiddin “most recently” and “during the discussion we did not see the need for a cabinet reshuffle at the moment .

But with all due respect, much as Redzuan is close to Muhyiddin, he is not the prime minister.

To some political observers, though, this talk of an impending cabinet reshuffle is the work of pro-Umno elements as part of their “psy war”. This cannot be verified independently. 

Anyway, as I write this, there is no denial nor confirmation from the prime minister’s office on the so-called “cabinet reshuffle”.

Nevertheless, Ilham Center head of research Associate Professor Dr Yusri Ibrahim said the main objective of any cabinet reshuffle by the prime minister must be for the good of the nation and its people by bringing in competent people, not a move to satisfy requests or demands of certain groups or individuals.

“Cabinet posts are for providing good services to the rakyat and not to be used as political kickbacks for support rendered,” said Yusri.

And as Ilham Center CEO Mohd Azlan puts it, any cabinet reshuffle at this juncture will only be a way to beef up the government politically and not as contingency measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and what not.

Yusri concurs by saying if Umno’s demands are met, including a cabinet reshuffle which will accommodate more Umno figures, the party will continue to cooperate with Perikatan Nasional.

However, as I see it, in the event Perikatan Nasional, i.e. Muhyiddin, bowing to the pressure and giving in to Umno’s demands, his administration will not only be seen as “weak” but also be accused of practicing “political bribery” which according to Umno veteran leader Tengku Razaleigh “has eroded our constitutional democracy”.

Ku LI said that in his letter to Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Harun recently. Remember?

When he requested for a no-confidence motion against the prime minister be allowed to be tabled in the coming parliamentary session, Tengku Razaleigh also highlighted the offer made by Muhyiddin to him to be Petronas adviser which he rejected. In the same breath he brought up the “political bribery” part which can be interpreted in so many ways.

Also, Muhyiddin now has 70 ministers and deputy ministers in his administration. I don’t see him expanding that. He simply cannot. Hence, a reshuffle would involve not only the cabinet, meaning some of the current ministers and even deputy ministers will have to be dropped.

But who? Definitely not from PAS. They won’t have anything of that sorts. Not ministers and deputies from Sarawak and Sabah.

Chances are Muhyiddin will have to ax his own Bersatu people. Will they feel slighted? Angry even? Of course. But will they retaliate? Or will they be rewarded with some other things elsewhere?

Rewards for political support, as Yusri pointed out, is already taking place and chances are it will continue!

Is this a typical case of damned if you do, and damned if you don’t? 

Anyway, according to Azlan, “Until the new conditions between Umno and Bersatu are agreed upon, there will not be any cabinet reshuffle.”

I’ll leave it there. Which brings us to Tuesday’s Umno supreme council meeting.

“I think Umno will be at a crossroads to come to the best possible decision. The supreme council needs to take into account the sentiment of the grassroots who want to end ties with Bersatu while considering the needs and interests of the party if it is to remain in the government,” said Yusri.

Azlan put it this way: “If there is a split between Umno lawmakers with many leaning towards Anwar, the Muhyiddin government will fall and Anwar can be made prime minister subject to royal consent of course. But this is not plain sailing as such support will come with demands as well.

“But, if Umno decides to stick to Perikatan Nasional, Anwar’s path gets more difficult.”

I take “Anwar’s path gets more difficult” to mean an end to Anwar’s plan to be prime minister, or a strong possibility it would come to an end, because Umno sticking to Perikatan Nasional could mean Muhyiddin remaining as prime minister minister. That’s the picture, isn’t that? Or is it?

Where does that put Tengku Razaleigh? The longest serving MP is said to be interested to be PM (although he has not said it outright himself). And he is seen as one of the main contenders.

Many big decisions need to be made come Tuesday. Decisions which will bring all sorts of consequences to many. Enough said.

By : Mohsin Abdullah (Veteran journalist) – SIN CHEW DAILY

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