Ripples over Umno Youth move

Call for Zahid to ‘take a rest’ may have started with a match, but it could potentially grow into a fire.

IT came like a bolt out of the blue for Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

The call by Pontian Umno Youth chief Helmi Buang for his president to “take a rest” sent ripples through the party.

He had basically asked Ahmad Zahid to go on leave so that the party could move forward.

Those who understand the layered intricacies of Umno politics would know that a Youth leader would not take such a bold stand against his party president unless there is a powerful pair of hands behind him.

Moreover, Helmi has refused to retract his call, a sign that he is not afraid to face the music.

Before the day was over, two more Youth divisions had joined in.

By Friday evening, Seremban Youth chief Zool Amali Hussin was also telling his president to take a break while Pagoh Youth chief Fazli Salleh said Umno needs someone of calibre and who is clean and acceptable as the party’s prime minister candidate.

The other thing about Umno politics is that the Youth wing has often been the catalyst for critical development in the party and there is a sense that this may be the start of something major.

The alarm bells ought to be going off for Ahmad Zahid.

It is also significant that this had started in the Pontian division.

The division chief of Pontian is Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Hasni Mohamad who is very close to Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein.

Hasni was a former political secretary to Hishammuddin when he was the Youth and Sports Minister and their families recently holidayed together in Desaru.

The division’s deputy chief is none other than its Pontian MP Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan, who is also Umno secretary-general and an ally of Ahmad Zahid.

The vice-chief is Datuk Sumali Reduan who is the executive secretary of Umno.

It was obvious Helmi was hitting at two birds with one stone - the primary target was Ahmad Zahid while the secondary one was Ahmad Maslan.

So who is the hidden hand behind this?

Fingers were initially pointed at Hasni.

Johor Umno politicians said Hasni was equally taken aback and had asked his Youth chief for an explanation.

Pontian Wanita Umno chief, Hasrunizah Hassan, had voiced support for Helmi in the division’s WhatsApp group but sources said Ahmad Maslan personally asked her to delete her words of support.

The Pontian move might sound like a disgruntled Youth leader trying to start a fire with a match.

But what if the spark grows into a fire?

The Youth wing is where the party’s future leaders are born and they are taken seriously.

The wing had started the ball rolling in asking Ahmad Zahid to go on leave back in 2018.

That was what happened in 2018 when pressure from the Youth wing grew so loud that Ahmad Zahid took leave from his presidential duties, only to return some six months later.

“I have spoken to Zahid a few times. My sense is that he feels betrayed and he has no other option but to fight it out.

“It’s all up to him but I don’t see him taking leave again, ” said Pengerang MP Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

The Umno president is said to have the support of some two-thirds of the 191 Umno division heads from around the country.

At the same time, some in Umno think that Ahmad Zahid is distracted by his legal troubles and that it is dragging down the party.

There is sympathy for what he and Datuk Seri Najib Razak are going through, but the more pragmatic leaders can see the writing on the wall.

They know the party needs to move on if it is serious about winning back Malay support.

They feel that many of the decisions Umno has made in the past few years have been about self-interest and resulted in the party losing focus.

For instance, sources said he had wanted to pull the party out of government on Tuesday, hours before the Prime Minister was scheduled to announce the movement control order.

But he was “over-ruled” by his deputy president and three vice-presidents when they held their exclusive meeting of the “top five” at PWTC.

Ahmad Zahid’s recent decision to appoint Ahmad Maslan as Barisan Nasional secretary-general also did not go down well with his own party or the Barisan partners who think there were other more capable candidates.

The appointment has yet to be endorsed by the Barisan council.

Ahmad Zahid probably saw the Prime Minister’s recent pledge about not interfering in the judiciary as a signal that he is going to have an uphill task in court.

It is understood that he has approached Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin more than once for help on his court cases but to no avail.

The chatgroups of the Umno Youth wing have been on fire, with some supporting the call for change and renewal, while others defended their president.

It is unclear whether more voices from the wing will jump into the fray.

The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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