All the drama over Umno-Bersatu ties

Non-stop theatrics: File photo from a previous Umno general assembly. Will the Jan 31 assembly result in Umno cutting ties with Bersatu?

UMNO supreme council members were served popcorn during the party’s much anticipated meeting on Wednesday night. An apt snack indeed for these dramatic political times.

However, the meeting turned out to be an anti-climax. No decision was made about cutting ties with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

With all the noise made by the many anti-Bersatu division heads, analysts had expected the party to pull out of the ruling Perikatan Nasional coalition.

But instead of a press conference by Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announcing this, the party issued a statement after the meeting stating that a motion to sever ties with Bersatu would be voted on at Umno’s general assembly on Jan 31.

“The decision was not an anti-climax, ” insisted an anti-Bersatu Umno leader who didn’t want to be named.

“We are going to bring it up at the Umno general assembly. We are following procedure to confirm the result of the divisions’ resolution to cut ties with Bersatu.

“Since the support for it is overwhelming, the outcome will not change – they don’t want to work with Bersatu.”

Pulai Umno division chief Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed agreed.

“Umno is following the process (and going) up to the party general assembly. But the overwhelming decision has been made at the division level to part ways with Bersatu and not PAS. That will not change, ” he said.

However, Umno Putrajaya deputy chief Tun Faisal Ismail Aziz insisted that the anti-Bersatu faction had failed to push its agenda.

“It is back to square one. No decision has been made. It is only a decision for a motion to be brought before the Umno general assembly. That’s all. They could not reach a consensus to cut ties with Bersatu, ” he said.

Tun Faisal pointed out that there have been many failed attempts by the anti-Bersatu faction to push its agenda after the Sabah elections in September 2020 and gave several examples: The supreme council’s failure to decide whether Umno should consider cooperating with Opposition leader and PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim; the council also did not endorse a proposal that party MPs vote against Budget 2021; and it did not agree to form a Perak unity government with the DAP when the state changed Mentris Besar last month.

But the anti-Bersatu Umno leader disagreed. He contended that delegates at Umno’s general assembly will endorse the call made by a majority of division heads – according to Ahmad Zahid, 143 out of 191 divisions do not want to cooperate with Bersatu in GE15.

“This is the unique feature of this development. Usually in Umno, it is a top-down decision – the Umno supreme council decides. But now it is bottom-up. The Umno general assembly is the voice of the grassroots, ” he said.

“The supreme council did not overturn what the grassroots wanted. They pushed it to the general assembly.”

Tun Faisal, however, didn’t think it is a fait accompli.

“What has been told to the division heads and the grassroots is not the whole picture. They are not well informed about what is happening in the party and what transpired behind the scenes, ” he said.

For example, after the Sabah polls, Bersatu did not “bully” Umno over the chief minister post. “But the message sent after the Sabah elections was that we were bullied, and that was to fan sentiments against Bersatu, ” he said.

“If the delegates are not given a full explanation about what happened – such as what is happening to Bersatu and us or what transpired between Zahid, (former Umno president) Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the Opposition – they will not make a well-informed decision during the general assembly.”

The pro-Bersatu faction in the party still had time before the Jan 31 meeting to inform the grassroots of such behind-the-scenes goings-on, said the press secretary to Tan Sri Annuar Musa, who was removed as Barisan Nasional secretary-general on Tuesday for allegedly being pro-Bersatu.

It was a good start, said Tun Faisal, when Annuar Musa gave a press conference a day after his removal and revealed there is a move to support Anwar as Prime Minister. “Before that, we just talked in a small group, and Umno delegates at large did not know the true picture, ” he said.

According to Tun Faisal, Umno grassroots members have also not been told what would happen if the party parted ways with Bersatu in GE15.

“Will Umno contest solo? The grassroots don’t know the impact. Some hate Bersatu and are happy to contest against them in GE15. But if Umno can’t win on its own, will it find allies – which is what some of the anti-Bersatu leaders are talking about, so does that mean having ties with Anwar and DAP? There’s no motion on this at the general assembly, ” he said.

“If Umno switches its allegiance to, just say PKR, can Umno contest in seats that PKR won in GE14 like Lembah Pantai, Setiawangsa or Pasir Gudang?”

But the anti-Bersatu Umno leader reiterated that the delegates have already made up their minds: “Are they going to change their minds in three weeks? I don’t think so, ” he said.

Which faction will win at the Umno general assembly: the anti-Bersatu faction or the pro-Bersatu group?

Pass the popcorn, please.

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