THE Umno general assembly, which opens this evening, has no parallels in the history of the party.
It has been likened to a post-apocalypse gathering, given the way the party lost power after six decades as the ruling party.
Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is barely three months into his duties as Umno president, will be facing the delegates against a political backdrop that is chaotic, ironic and bizarre.
Every former Umno president has also been prime minister, but he is the first to be opposition leader.
But he has been unable to play his role and yesterday, many Umno members finally learnt why – their new president has been busy trying to strike an alliance to enable his party to return to power.
Dr Ahmad Zahid admitted in an interview with an English daily that Umno wants to form a unity government with any party within Pakatan Harapan.
He had also met Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad – twice and not seven times as reported – to discuss issues and seek his advice.
The meetings, which took place with a view towards political cooperation, have drawn criticism and ridicule because who on earth meets with the enemy for advice?
It is possible that Dr Ahmad Zahid is testing the wind ahead of the Umno assembly.
He is probably seeking a mandate from the Umno delegates this weekend to proceed with the plan and, if all goes well, to execute it.
How and when that will happen, nobody can predict because of the complexities and personalities involved.
However, Dr Ahmad Zahid hinted that it may happen before or after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim becomes the Prime Minister, adding heat to the rumour that “something big” may happen in November.
Dr Ahmad Zahid denied that he had met or contacted Anwar. But Umno’s decision to give the PKR leader a free pass in the Port Dickson by-election seems to suggest some sort of secret understanding happening behind the scenes.
Some think the unity government idea is to distract delegates from the bigger issue of reviving and reforming Umno, as well as the troubles weighing down on them.
The party is almost paralysed because its finances and accounts have been frozen by the Pakatan government.
The assembly is also taking place in the shadow of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.
Ex-Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is claiming trial to 25 charges of corruption and money laundering in court while a book on the 1MDB debacle, Billion Dollar Whale, has shot to the top of the bestsellers list.
Najib’s wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor is being investigated in connection with the scandal. The controversial former first lady arrived at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) headquarters a few days ago amid a media frenzy.
The sight of Baling MP and former Tabung Haji chairman Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Rahim in the dreaded orange prison outfit also sent ripples through the party.
It was a signal that MACC is spreading its tentacles beyond Najib in its 1MDB probe.
To add to all this, a number of senior party leaders have resigned, while a few more seem to be getting ready to jump ship.
Meanwhile, far away in New York, Dr Mahathir predicted that Umno has no future and will collapse soon.
It was a cruel indictment on the eve of the party’s general assembly.
The Prime Minister’s sense of revenge runs deep and it is known that he had spent almost 30 minutes complaining about Umno and nagging the Umno delegation that met him two weeks ago.
Umno is not exactly a sinking ship. It is far too big to go under just yet, but it is going nowhere for now.
In fact, Dr Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi is having its own problems. His party in Negri Sembilan, which has been problematic from day one, has “gone under receivership”, so to speak – it has been dissolved and put under the command of former Umno leader Tan Sri Rais Yatim.
To add salt to the Umno wound, RTM and TV3 may not be providing a live telecast of the party’s presidential speech, unlike in previous years.
Dr Ahmad Zahid may not have an easy time this weekend, going by how some Umno members and even leaders have taken to social media to criticise the party and his attempts to form an alliance with Pakatan parties.
Not everyone in Umno approves of what Kepala Batas politician Azizi Safar calls a “backdoor government”.
“The rakyat has spoken. The reality is that they kicked us out because they don’t like us. A backdoor government is not the way. Regain the people’s support and return the proper way,” said Azizi.
Meanwhile, deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan is confident that Dr Ahmad Zahid will outline the roadmap for Umno to move on.
He stressed that Umno cannot go down the ultra road and that the roadmap to recovery must be in the context of a multiracial Malaysia.
He said Umno will continue to defend Malay concerns like Islam, the Malay language and the Malay Rulers, but he stressed that this is the new century and no party can progress by continuing to chant “Bangkit Melayu” (Malay supremacy).
“Morale is low and there will be delegates waiting to let out their frustrations. But our members are tired of talking about what happened.
“They want to know how to move ahead and the assembly is the best opportunity for us to spell it out,” said Mohamad.
Did you find this article insightful?