Announcement made hours before Supreme Council meet seen as early strike against Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi
KUALA LUMPUR : It appears that Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s move to promote two Umno ministers is a checkmate hours before a Supreme Council meeting at Menara Dato Onn here.
This afternoon, the Prime Minister’s Office announced the appointment of Umno vice-president and Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob as deputy prime minister, while Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has been elevated as a senior minister.
Although many were taken by surprise, The Vibes had predicted in January that the top two contenders for the deputy prime minister’s post were Ismail Sabri and Hishammuddin.
Pre-emptive strike by Bersatu
Responding to queries, political analysts said the move was meant to be a pre-emptive strike against Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s call to leave the Bersatu-led Perikatan Nasional administration, something that was agreed upon in a resolution passed at Umno’s last general assembly.
Looking at the promotions, Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun questioned whether the appointments of the two senior party men had received the Supreme Council’s blessing.
“Those duly elected to be in charge of Umno, as well as the grassroots of Umno, they are both in favour of leaving (PN). Now, the appointments (of Ismail Sabri and Hishammuddin) as deputy prime minister and senior minister, respectively, I don’t think that was done with the blessing of the Umno leadership,” he told The Vibes.
“So, I think the sentiment of leaving, which is very much supported by the Umno grassroots, is still brewing. It’s just a matter of time, and it could be tonight, could be on a future date. It’s going to explode.”
In his statement thanking the prime minister for the appointment, Ismail Sabri alluded that he had received the party’s blessing.
“At the same time, I want to voice my gratitude for the support given to me by Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and the entire party leadership.”
With the two appointments, said Oh, Zahid could face a leadership crisis within the party, seeing that several MPs, especially those with positions in the PN government, have shown extreme reluctance in getting off the gravy train.
On the other hand, the political pundit stressed that even though Zahid’s position is tenuous, he will remain president until the next party polls, or if he voluntarily resigns – he cannot be toppled simply because a number of Umno MPs do not support him.
“I think he does enjoy vast support from the grassroots, as well as the divisions and Supreme Council.
“Of course, Zahid could still move with widespread support from Umno and bring out a sufficient number of MPs, and this government could collapse whether or not Ismail Sabri is deputy prime minister.
“And, he could always form some other coalition government with other parties – PKR and DAP. So, as long as Bersatu is still in charge of this government, I think Umno will still not feel alright, because they feel that they are being oppressed by Bersatu.”
Appointments meant to trigger dissent in Umno
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Assoc Prof Azmi Hassan said his reading of the appointments is that they were meant to create a rift within Umno during its meeting tonight.
“Well, the PM’s move, I guess, has got something to do with Umno wanting to pull its support for PN, and maybe, to pre-empt tonight’s Supreme Council meeting regarding their support for PN.
“But as I see it, nothing much has changed. I think the status quo remains. Just that a senior minister and a deputy prime minister have been appointed. The status quo remains.
“And why Ismail Sabri and Hishammuddin were chosen, in my view, I think, it’s because most probably, the prime minister wants to entice these two Umno ministers to contradict or object to the president’s wishes to pull out as soon as possible.”
He recalled that Malaysia’s oldest Malay-based party has stressed that the deputy prime minister’s position is neither its target nor part of its mission.
The last Umno assembly saw the party saying it will never play second fiddle to Bersatu, and that if it must remain in PN, then the party must lead and helm the nation with one of its own as prime minister.
“Let’s see what happens tonight, if Umno comes out with any decision. But again, I think with the two new appointments, Umno will come out with a very extreme position, I guess, just to show that they mean business to the prime minister,” said Azmi.
Studying the timing of Muhyiddin’s announcement on the two appointments, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Assoc Prof Kartini Aboo Talib described it as a “strategic masterpiece”.
This would not be the first time the Pagoh MP pulled off a stunning manoeuvre to corner his political opponents, seeing that he outfoxed one of the most cunning politicians in the country – two-time former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad – in last year’s Sheraton Move.
However, she disagrees with the notion that the Umno grassroots and Supreme Council are still behind Zahid.
The majority of the party’s leaders and MPs who want to pull out of PN happen to be those facing corruption charges, with this group also known as the “court cluster”.
Zahid has been playing cloak and dagger to ensure he remains a free man, as he, too, faces a raft of graft charges, she said.
“Zahid should resign and retire for good. He is incapable of leading Umno, and he has been playing a lot of ‘wayang kulit’ (shadow theatre) with ‘I don’t want to rot in a cell’ as his motivation.
“Factions in Umno are no secret. Thus, Zahid does not have majority support from among Umno members. Even when he called on Umno ministers to resign, to support him, none of them listened. They ignored his absurd demand.
“The Umno grassroots many no longer support Zahid, and since Umno is pending a general assembly to select new leaders, the grassroots cannot mobilise quickly to oust him.”
By : Azril Annuar – THE VIBES