Umno members have been inundated with claims that their party will be deregistered soon but is that enough to drive the rank and file into the arms of Dr Mahathir?
DATUK Seri Mustapa Mohamed was spotted on Saturday making his way through Subang airport to catch a flight to Kota Baru.
The man, who rarely makes news, made the headlines after joining Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia the night before.
He has been quite a catch for Bersatu because he is known for his credibility, brains and diligence.
There is also talk that he will soon be joining the Mahathir Cabinet, presumably to replace one of the non-performing Bersatu ministers.
The bulk of Bersatu leaders have little clue of the sentiments and needs of the rural Malay base and Mustapa has been tasked to take care of that sector.
It is a new beginning for the 68-year-old politician and his aides are still adjusting to the boss’ sudden career turn.
One of his aides had joked that Mustapa has changed his seating three times since the new Parliament convened. He started off on the opposition bench, then moved to where the independent MPs sit and now he will join his new friends on the Pakatan Harapan backbench.
There may be a fourth change of seat if he is indeed made a minister.
A political insider said Bersatu approached Mustapa four days after the general election. That was how keen it was to have the Jeli MP onboard.
“I can see why Pakatan wants him, it is to signal that it wants people with integrity. If he is appointed to the Cabinet, it may hasten the Umno move towards Mahathir,” said political commentator Dr Azmi Omar.
Mustapa’s immediate priority is to usher Umno grassroots leaders in Kelantan into Bersatu.
Everything looks wonderful on paper but the reaction on the ground has been less than wonderful.
Billboards from GE14 featuring Mustapa and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in Jeli have been vandalised with plastic sheets plastered over Mustapa’s face.
In Kelantan, such people are also known as “frogs” and Mustapa will be facing his first test at the Kelantan state assembly sitting today.
Kelantan Umno politician and Kok Lanas assemblyman Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad, famous for his oratory, has fired an early shot.
“Umno thought it was holding a diamond, but it turned out to be glass. We respected him as our leader, lived in the same house for so many years, sleeping in the same bed. Suddenly, one morning, we woke up and bye-bye, he is married to the neighbour,” said Alwi.
But jokes aside, Umno leaders have been under immense pressure.
They know Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is hell-bent on destroying their party. He has destroyed Najib and he is now going after Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Political insiders say that Najib’s daily rebuttals against the government has gotten under the Prime Minister’s skin and the unending string of corruption charges are also aimed at silencing him.
The corruption charges against the two men have shocked party members but it is turning into an over-kill and may backfire at some point.
Umno members have been inundated by claims that their party will soon be declared illegal and they would be left without a party.
It is a sort of psywar, to bombard them with the notion that their party is finished and has no future.
The aim is draw them into Bersatu or a new Malay party that may be formed in the near future to replace Bersatu and Umno.
According to political insiders, this plan was only meant to be executed in two years’ time or when Dr Mahathir is ready to call it a day.
But it was expedited after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim rushed into a by-election.
The Mahathir camp saw the Port Dickson by-election as a preemptive strike by Anwar. As a precautionary measure, they are now moving to strengthen their own numbers.
And where else can Bersatu get the numbers but from Umno which has a cache of 49 MPs?
“Let me put it simply, the game is on,” said Dr Azmi.
By that, he means the game between Dr Mahathir and Anwar.
Publicly, there have been lots of smiles and sweet words between the two men but there is also a lot of suspicion and distrust.
The talk is that Dr Mahathir is willing to accept almost everyone from Umno except for six leaders – Najib, Dr Ahmad Zahid, Tan Sri Annuar Musa, Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim, Khairy Jamaluddin and Datuk Seri Tajuddin Rahman.
Rumours that Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein could be following in Mustapa’s footsteps have been swirling like crazy.
A Kelantan insider claimed that Hishammuddin has been asked to bring Umno MPs en bloc into Bersatu.
He recently tweeted a picture of himself surrounded by about 30 Umno MPs ahead of the Parliament sitting.
Rightly or wrongly, many saw it as Hishammuddin signalling that he can deliver what Dr Mahathir wants.
His recent statement that he wants to help bring the 1MDB fugitive Jho Low back to Malaysia was seen as yet another step closer to Dr Mahathir.
Hishammuddin has also been inviting Umno leaders, including Alwi, to his new office in Ampang for “ tea and chit-chat”.
He has been asking his visitors: “Between Anwar and Mahathir, who would you choose?”
Alwi was initially reluctant to answer what he thought was a strange question.
“Why must we choose them? Why can’t we have our own party?” said Alwi.
When pressed further, Alwi finally said: “I don’t know yet, but I trust Mahathir more than Anwar.”
This is despite the fact that Alwi has been telling his Umno friends that Bersatu is the weak link in Pakatan because “their chairman is 93, their president is not well and their Youth chief is in the bathtub”.
Meanwhile, the pro-Anwar segment of Umno is not sitting around doing nothing.
Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, who has openly declared support for Anwar, has been appointed Barisan Nasional secretary-general, a move seen as balancing off the pro-Mahathir segment led by Hishammuddin.
No one can quite predict what lies ahead in this final showdown although a famous Thai psychic has predicted that Malaysia will see a spate of arrests and street protests towards the end of the year.
The supreme irony is that this will the third time that Dr Mahathir has split Umno down the middle. The first was in the Team A-Team B fight in 1987 and the second was the sacking of Anwar in 1998.
Each split has left Umno weaker than ever. As such, Dr Mahathir may be right when he said that Umno is finished.
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