Big tent Umno bursting at the seams

JUNE 24 : Almost three months ago, in the aftermath of the Umno general assembly, this column predicted the then-condemned would fight back. Those lambasted by party president Zahid Hamidi as Perikatan Nasional (PN) stooges inside Umno. No names, just the usual intimations by the party boss.

They duly obliged to repay his insolence towards them. As soon as the assembly ended, they went for the jugular.

The shouts, denials and admonishments continue incessantly from all recognisable party leaders. Tempting news portals to issue Bingo cards to readers.

Zahid’s previous claim to end the Muhyiddin Yassin administration sounds hollow today. One MP, former minister and political warlord, Nazri Aziz, went as far to collect support to disallow Zahid the right to represent Umno to the Agong.

Here, an Umno veteran feels the president is unfit to represent the party, and says it out loud and in public. No concern for repercussions.

In the Mahathir days, a president would have sacked a member for far less.

Vice-president Ismail Sabri, as if in solidarity with Nazri, emphasises no Barisan Nasional (BN) MP will back a vote of no confidence in Parliament, whenever sittings resume.

Curiously, he did not say this was the party president’s instructions. In both instances, leaders spoke freely and most dangerously liaise directly with other MPs, and not through the party president.

Party discipline is currently a joke.

Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi at the 2020 Umno annual general meeting in Kuala Lumpur March 28, 2021. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi at the 2020 Umno annual general meeting in Kuala Lumpur March 28, 2021. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

Zahid risks sliding into the background, and surely with him, Umno’s credibility.

In summary, the implosion outpaced even the worst critic’s prognosis. Well done, Umno!

Why the rapid crumble and what happens next?

Those are complicated to break down, but one thing is certain, founder Mahathir Mohamad must be laughing.

Umno, the Leviathan party

The one Mahathir built from the ground up in 1988.

The party fashioned itself to be dominant and its main leader larger than life, larger than the federation in which it sits inside.

First, the party is power. Without the party, there is no power. Therefore, all other parties are just kidding themselves.

In the party’s core and on top, an omniscient and omnipotent president. Impossible to ignore, always to be feared.

Finally, the third premise, Malays will lose all without Umno.

An absolutist construct requires complete societal acquiescence. Unfortunately for Umno, the world moved on. Well, certainly Malaysians did.

How to be the party of power when only a member of PN?

Umno’s president is not in Cabinet, and he joins its immediate past president Najib Razak in various separate court entanglements, all ugly, all painful.

PAS, Umno and Bersatu simultaneously claim Malays will gain all, but only through them despite being in the same government. This renders Umno, as one of several viable choices. Which explains the Sabah chapter’s shrink thanks to shirkers — or were they splitters?

The one-time Leviathan is just another contender. In quick time, Bersatu the party without a membership base levels up with Umno by sharing a government.

History will judge if the Sheraton Move, Pakatan Harapan breakaways reunited with former Barisan Nasional (BN) parties inside PN, ultimately led to the cannibalising of Umno.

State leaderships continue to veer in different directions. Co-operation with PKR firms up in Perak, and the opposite in Negeri Sembilan. If Umno fails to have party elections by the general election, there’s an even chance those struck off the candidate list will contest under Bersatu. Some of it is off Zahid’s hands as they choose to co-operate with PAS which means foregoing many traditional contests. PAS is not MCA, MIC or Gerakan, glad to be told where to sit, when to sit and how to sit.

It’s ominous for Umno.

This is not the dominant party of the country, it’s far from being the nation’s dominant party. Zahid probably controls less than 10 Umno parliamentarians. That’s not to say Muhyiddin has the support of the majority of Umno MPs regardless of Zahid’s orders. This is to say that most Umno MPs have a foot each in both camps.

They hedge and Zahid cannot do anything to change that. What can he barter?

And there’s the other thing.

His Anwar Ibrahim fixation.

Enduring love 

In the fascinating world of Zahid Hamidi, it’s all about the leader of the Opposition. It transcends political calculations.

While almost a generation has passed since the PKR president was axed by Mahathir from Umno, the current president cannot simply accept they are in different parties. Which probably nauseates Mahathir.

The umbilical cord formed in the Nineties never severed, their families proudly linked.

This unnatural connection, voluntarily kept, promotes PKR as equals, by virtue of Zahid repeatedly punting Anwar’s charge to be PM. Umno’s president playing cheerleader to another party leader, ally or nemesis, it’s unheard of.

Umno members need to feel superior. They can stomach electoral losses as long as the party does not admit to any deficiency. All things against the party are aberrations.

But with members-lite Bersatu on par to the right out of political manoeuvring, and PKR shoulder to shoulder on the left, Umno has chosen to be less. By presidential decree.

Umno loses its political arrogance.

Anger within, anger without

Umno is not a happy place today.

There is political capital, but it is used by the leaders in it presently to power their own futures. Those in the Muhyiddin Cabinet establishing themselves as national heroes in a time of Covid-19. The deputy president, Mohamad Hasan, lacks a vehicle in party or government to propel himself or stay in the headlines. He stays hopeful. Najib is only an MP but milks social media and ironically hurts Umno by sucking oxygen from the same tank.

A mass exodus is probable rather than possible at this rate.

Zahid expects his fate to improve rather than schemes for them to. His appeal is beginning to tell. An old Modest Mouse album comes to mind: This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About. The party cannot separate itself from its top leader, that’s how it is designed. 

Right now, it appears, he’s just biding time expecting the gods of fate to give him his chance as he is Umno president. Others might decide the outcome before the gods, in his case.

By : Praba Ganesan – MALAY MAIL

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Stringer

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