KUALA LUMPUR: Umno could be further divided and weakened if its party election were to be held before the 15th General Election, says Barisan Nasional advisory board chairman Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
“There are pros and cons to us having elections. One of the effects of elections is division within the party and those who lose will be stolen by others to be their candidates.
“So, if there are other parties who want to weaken Umno, they will wait for Umno’s election so that splinters from those who lost will be invited or persuaded or offered to enter their party. So Umno will split up from that aspect, so we have to have an in-depth study, ” he said to reporters after delivering his speech at the Malaysia Democracy Forum on Tuesday (March 30).
Najib was responding to Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin, who said the best way to resolve the current infighting within Umno is to expedite its party polls, which is due to be held this year.
Elaborating further, Najib said there would not be a level playing field if the Umno elections were to include contenders with positions in government.
“We must contest on a level playing field. So, if all in the government resign from their positions and contest, then only will there be a level playing field.
“When they are in government, they will make all sorts of offers, using government allocations and so on. So, it’s not fair to those without position, ” he said.
Political observers have noted that Umno is currently split between the factions led by Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Tan Sri Annuar Musa, where the former has declared intentions to sever ties with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), while the latter is urging Umno to stay on in the Perikatan Nasional coalition.
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian said the Umno party election would be the best solution to avoid further infighting, which could undermine the party’s overall performance.
Dr Sivamurugan said Ahmad Zahid would likely retain presidency, unless an experienced leader backed by warlords, were to challenge him for the Umno presidency.
“Looking at the votes obtained by Tengku Razaleigh (Hamzah) and Khairy from the last party election, the contestants will have equal chances to win.”
In the previous party polls in 2018, Ahmad Zahid won the presidency after getting 99 out of 191 division votes, followed by Khairy with 61 votes and Tengku Razaleigh (30).
However, Universiti Malaya’s political analyst Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi said party polls will not solve the internal crisis in Umno, which he described as a factional rivalry between leaders with Cabinet positions and those who did not.
“Those in the Cabinet, some of them have no party positions because they were defeated in the previous party polls and some did not contest in the previous party poll.
“If party polls were to be held, the results are expected to be nearly the same as before and there will be slight changes in terms of party hierarchy.”
Awang Azman also estimated that around 71% of Umno members rejected cooperation with Bersatu, adding that although Ahmad Zahid isn’t a Cabinet minister, his chances of retaining presidency is high because he is aligned with the Najib faction in Umno.
“Moreover, Ahmad Zahid is elected democratically, ” he said, adding that he expects Umno party polls to be postponed until GE15 concludes.
“This is not just about the pandemic, but to ensure that focus is given to the general election first. As long as Umno’s party election is postponed, the faction consisting of those without positions will continue to dominate the party and pressure for snap elections this year.”
Last weekend, Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan said during the general assembly that the party plans to hold its internal elections this year if the general election isn’t called.
He said there are plans by Umno to hold its branch elections in August and two months later, elections in its division and central levels will be held simultaneously nationwide.”
Mohamad, who is the chairman of Umno’s selection committee for its internal election, told Malay daily Sinar Harian that it is keeping a close watch on the events leading up to the end of the Emergency Proclamation on Aug 1.
Umno, which has 3.35 million members as of March 26, was due for a party election last year, but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Umno’s general assembly was also postponed several times to March 27 and 28 this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to Umno’s constitution, the supreme council has the prerogative to postpone party election for up to 18 months from the date when the election is supposed to be held.
Umno party elections are held every three years and the last party poll was on June 30,2018.
The current term for Umno’s leadership is set to expire on June 30.