by AZREEN HANI / pic by HUSSEIN SHAHARUDDIN
JUST a little over a week ago, Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi looked like he had regained his footing in the Malaysian politics, which could be credited to the heightened anti-ICERD sentiment fanned by his various allies, especially among the good people in PAS.
With ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination), Ahmad Zahid — who was already saddled with 45 criminal charges — seemed confident that his “Umno-PAS unity” could be the real threat to the Pakatan Harapan government.
Each of his statements during that week was peppered with stern warnings to anyone who was against the “Malay-Muslims” aspirations.
This close cooperation had many observers believing that the Umno-PAS merger might just be on the cards soon, making the “new coalition” an even more formidable Opposition force in the country.
The aspiration, however, was short-lived.
The nightmare began for the Bagan Datuk MP last Wednesday, when Sabah Umno leaders, including the state liaison committee chairman, announced their resignations from the party, effectively crippling the party and tarnishing its presence in the state.
The news prompted Ahmad Zahid to call for a press conference on the same day, reassuring members that the decision was unexpected, and that an immediate action including a reshuffle within the party would take place soon to mitigate the situation.
The resignations seemed contagious though, as five more Umno MPs from Peninsular Malaysia quit the party, two days after the Sabah exodus. This left Umno currently with only 37 Parliament seats from the 54 that it won in the 14th General Election.
Ahmad Zahid still persisted and called on Umno members to not panic as the situation was “temporary in nature”. “This may be the price that we have to pay in fighting for our race and religion. Although there are people who have left Umno, we believe it will not affect the grassroot support,” he wrote in his tweet.
In another posting, a determined Ahmad Zahid said: “Those who have left Umno have no right to speak about Umno. There are many others who can replace them to be MPs. Why are (there) so many (people who are) quick to jump to conclusion after the ICERD rally? Islam and Malay’s pride remain our main agenda,” Ahmad Zahid said.
While he displayed a tough exterior, the discontentment among Umno members over the mass resignations would be hard for Ahmad Zahid to ignore.
It is a humiliating experience (and rather amusing) for a party that had ruled for over six decades to lose 17 parliamentary seats in the span of six months after the election.
Last Friday, Ahmad Zahid was slapped with another criminal breach of trust charge, making it 46 charges against him so far.
Rembau MP and ex-presidential contender Khairy Jamaluddin was quick to ask for Ahmad Zahid’s resignation. Khairy even stated that the party could not be led, in his own words, “by kleptocrat-supporting, lebai-loving carrot heads. Could go either way, right now”, alluding it to the Umno-PAS cooperation.
Other party leaders including Arau MP Datuk Seri Dr Shahidan Kassim and Jempol MP Datuk Mohd Salim Mohd Sharif joined in and demanded Ahmad Zahid’s temporary leave, saying that the president had “lost his way”.
Political analyst Dr Ahmad Atory Hussain told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) that Ahmad Zahid might have miscalculated the party’s sentiment on the cooperation.
Alas, the shoes were too big for him to fill.
“I do not see why there is the need to announce the cooperation when the election is five years away. While ICERD gave him the platform…he failed to realise that his priorities were to sort his own backyard and lead his party.
“But he did not. There was no direction, no strategy apart from trying to work with PAS. Worse, there were rumours of secret deals with Pakatan Harapan going around that caused even Umno members to reassess
their positions in the party. “For this (Umno’s destruction), I blame him. Worst of all, he is facing multiple court cases. How do you build a strong party when your credibility is in question?” Ahmad Atory said.
Umno Youth strategic director Wan Agyl Wan Hassan concurred, saying that there were various issues in the party that should be addressed by top leadership, but were ignored instead.
“In the first place, we have to acknowledge that there is a force, whether it is within or outside Umno, that is trying to lure the members away.
“It is unacceptable for MPs to jump ship, but at the same time there is not enough direction for Umno to move forward as well,” he added.
Wan Agyl said the failure to recognise and address the symptoms plaguing Umno has led the party to be in the state it is in at the moment.
“It is a sad situation to be in at the moment, but of course, we have to do the best we can,” he added.
Another Umno Youth representative, Zaidel Baharuddin, on the other hand, feels the departure of Umno MPs would be a good ground for the party to rebuild and reform itself.
“And I do hope whatever probes on some MPs shall continue. It should not stop just because they are jumping ship,” he said.
As it is, Ahmad Zahid is still playing down the calls for him to step down, maintaining that it is the internal fight that would spell the death of Umno.
He might be right, that the party’s strength does not rely solely on one leader, but with growing speculations that more members are planning to leave Umno, Ahmad Zahid’s week-long nightmare seems far from over. It may just be the beginning for yet another dramatic turn of events.