The night of long knives in Umno


Ahmad Zahid showing his credential pass to the press during the Umno General Assembly 2022 at World Trade Centre. — Filepic/IZZRAFIQ ALIAS/The Star

WHAT a bombshell of a night it was for Umno.

Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi went for the kill, bringing down the axe on those deemed to have breached party discipline and who were also known to be critical of his leadership.

In doing so, he effectively killed off any opposition to his position in Umno, clearing the field for him to assert full control of the party.

“It was a case of kill or be killed and Zahid’s killer instinct came into play,” said a Selangor Umno figure.

The last few days had been chocked with speculation that action would be taken against Khairy Jamaluddin, Tan Sri Noh Omar and Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein but few had imagined it would be a political bloodbath.

ALSO READ: KJ and Noh Omar sacked

Ahmad Zahid certainly lived up to his threat of a “big-scale cleaning-up” to exorcise the party of saboteurs and those who had “shot themselves in the foot”.

Khairy’s sacking, in particular, will be the talk of the town for days to come. He had been the boldest and most vocal in speaking up and he paid a terrible price.

The former health minister was seen as the future of Umno and to throw him out this way is simply bad optics. It is not going to help Umno rebuild its image which is at rock bottom.

The “cleaning-up” has also effectively barred the group from contesting the upcoming party election or even the next general election.

Ahmad Zahid now has an iron grip on the party and parallels are being drawn between him and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when it comes to survival instincts.

The final headcount boils down to two sackings, that is, Khairy and Noh, and five six-year suspensions including Hishammuddin.

The others suspensions were deputy Umno Youth chief Shahril Hamdan and Jempol division chief Salim Sharif, both of whom are aligned to former prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

Datuk Maulizan Bujang, who was also suspended, is Tebrau division chief and a loyalist of Hishammuddin while Datuk Dr Fathul Bari Mat Jahya is related to Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim.

Former Johor mentri besar Datuk Seri Hasni Mohammad suffered collateral damage. Hasni, who is a die-hard Hishammuddin loyalist, was sacked as Johor Umno chairman.

The supreme council meeting was quite brief considering the staggering agenda.

ALSO READ: Unbowed, unbent, unbroken, says Khairy over Umno sacking

Ahmad Zahid, according to reliable accounts, began the meeting by outlining his plans to revive Umno and proposed the setting up of an Umno Institute. He also spoke of the need for better media communications and a more aggressive social media presence especially on TikTok.

He then cut to the chase, announcing that Khairy would be sacked and the suspension of the others.

There was a stunned silence and one of the first to speak up was vice-president Ismail Sabri who questioned the process of the disciplinary actions.

Noh, who at that point was among those suspended, lashed out, saying he had received a letter to appear before the disciplinary board on Jan 30 and yet was already suspended.

“You might as well sack me,” he said, to which Ahmad Zahid promptly agreed to sack him.

It was a dramatic moment that saw jaws dropped around the table.

Hishammuddin’s suspension came as a shock given that he is Sembrong MP with a famous family name.

The irony is Ahmad Zahid and Hishammuddin were political buddies back when Barisan Nasional was the government

But their relationship deteriorated and the last straw was the Johorean’s alleged role in roping in Barisan Nasional MPs to sign statutory declarations in support of a government led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

According to an Umno insider, Hishammuddin was also alleged to have persuaded Sarawak Premier Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg to come onboard with Muhyiddin.

Hishammuddin was trying to nudge the party towards Perikatan Nasional while Ahmad Zahid was pushing Umno towards Pakatan Harapan.

Those suspended can appeal the decision but it is the end of the road for Khairy and Noh because there is apparently no recourse for sackings.

Ahmad Zahid, said a supreme council member loyal to him, has been humiliated inside and outside the party because of his corruption cases.

“Not many know this but every decision of his has been questioned and undermined by certain quarters in the party.

“Yet, this is the man who held Umno together during its darkest days. He refused to go along with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was out to destroy and deregister Umno.

“For that, he was fixed with multiple court charges,” said the supreme council member who claimed the Umno president still commands support in the party.

Ahmad Zahid is at his most powerful now that he is Deputy Prime Minister as well as Rural and Regional Development Minister and he will do anything to stay in power.

Everyone in the party knows he means business and any criticism over the purge is likely to be muted.

Umno’s history has shown that the party is weakened and fractured each time prominent leaders are sacked.

Ahmad Zahid obviously does not believe in keeping his friends close and his enemies closer.

But what is good for the president may not necessarily be good for the party especially with the six-state election on the horizon.

The shockwaves are still rippling through the party and its full impact will become clearer in the coming weeks.

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

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