The moves in the recent 2020 Umno AGM were dazzling, if not puzzling.
THE recent 2020 Umno annual general assembly (AGM) was like a silat pulut exhibition.
During his winding-up speech at the end of the Umno AGM on March 28, deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan cautioned that the party should not waver and immediately withdraw support from the Perikatan Nasional government once it decides to do so. Mohamad said Umno should not perform silat pulut.
“When I say we should not do silat pulut, it means we should not beat around the bush and only pretend to attack, ” he said.
“If we agree to withdraw in August, then we withdraw in August. We can’t play silat pulut incessantly because this silat is only performed in front of the bride until the performer gets tired on his own.”
The Umno deputy president also cautioned that the party has already announced its move (to quit the Perikatan government).
Universiti Malaya political analyst Dr Muhammad Asri Mohd Ali concurred that the Umno AGM was a silat pulut exhibition.
“It was for show. If they value political strategy, then they should hide their intention. Now everybody knows their plan. Their enemy will make a move – they will not just listen and do nothing. It was a langkah sumbang (wrong step), ” he said.
According to Muhammad Asri, that was why Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia immediately had meetings with PAS and Umno ministers.
“But, let’s say the AGM had stressed that Umno would continue to be with Bersatu and Perikatan, Muhyiddin will not consider there was a threat and take any action, ” he said.
The next day, the Prime Minister countered Umno’s langkah sumbang with “matikan gerak” (to stop your opponent’s action dead on track). The Bersatu president met with Umno MPs who were in the Cabinet.
In a statement on Wednesday, Muhyiddin declared that Umno ministers have agreed to remain in the Cabinet and not relinquish their posts.
Some Umno ministers issued statements corresponding to what the Prime Minister had said. For example, Health Minister Dr Adham Baba stated that ministers from Umno would remain in the Cabinet of the Perikatan government to ensure that the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and economic recovery efforts are managed properly.
According to Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid, the AGM gave the party president and supreme council the mandate to withdraw support for the Perikatan government at any time it deemed fit.
Will Umno’s 38 MPs abide when ordered to leave the government?
“It’s quite complicated. Some have already said they will not abide, ” said Muhammad Asri.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia political analyst Dr Mazlan Ali acknowledged that not all the MPs would follow. He explained there was a faction in Umno that believed for the party to win big in GE15, it can’t go solo and has to stay with the Perikatan coalition.
Political analyst and SIP Advisory CEO Jason Leong pointed out that there are 16 Umno MPs who are ministers, deputy ministers and GLC (government-linked companies) chairmen.
“It is unlikely that this group of MPs would want to give up their position. At the same time, it is known that the Umno supreme council is controlled and influenced by Ahmad Zahid as president because many were appointed by him. Many ministers/deputy ministers, who would not follow the decision to quit the PN government, are not in the supreme council, ” he said.
It will be a political tug of war between the Umno president and the Prime Minister who is from Bersatu. Will the rebellious MPs listen to Ahmad Zahid, who signs the watikah (authorisation letter for candidates) or to Muhyiddin, who holds the power?
The Umno AGM also decided on “no Bersatu, no Anwar (PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim), no DAP”. Is the decision final? Or, will there be a move within and outside of the party for “yes Bersatu” or “yes Anwar” or “yes DAP”?
Muhammad Asri thinks the decision would be challenged by Federal Territories Minister and Umno’s Ketereh MP Tan Sri Annuar Musa and those in the kluster mesra bunga (cluster friendly with flower, the logo of Bersatu). He also noted that Ahmad Zahid’s kluster tak mesra bunga (not friendly with flower) would also explore other political alliances.
“Given that it will be a long time before GE15, many possibilities will take place, including allying with Pakatan Harapan, ” he said.
Mazlan contended that even though based on Umno constitution the AGM decision was final, there was no finality in “no Bersatu, no Anwar, no DAP.” He noted there were Umno leaders who did not listen to the president.
“They, especially those in the cabinet, are divided in their loyalty to the government or the party, ” he said.
Leong argued that the AGM decision was not written in stone.
“But an Umno-DAP collaboration will turn off Umno members who will rather vote for PAS/Bersatu or abstain. Similarly, for DAP, it will turn off their members where many will not turn out to vote. It is a lose-lose scenario for Umno and DAP, ” he said.
Leong believed the Anwar gambit was basically to allow Umno to exert some pressure on Bersatu. He noted that in the party AGM, state Umno chief from Perlis, Sabah, and possibly Selangor, said they might not toe the line due to their states’ complicated political dynamics.
“Umno should be strategic enough to forge a limited collaboration with PPBM re GE15 to maximise seat gains, ” he said.
So, who was the winner and loser in the Umno AGM?
For Muhammad Asri, the winner is Ahmad Zahid.
“It showed that he has a strong influence in Umno. It was not an easy step to take since many cabinet members from Umno are enjoying their position and perks, ” he said.
For Mazlan, it is Muhyiddin.
“Even though he is not with Umno, it is as if more Umno leaders listen to him than to Ahmad Zahid, ” he said.
For Leong, Ahmad Zahid made a smart move by not speaking about PKR and getting the AGM mandate to decide on how and when to pull out of the Perikatan government.
“As it is, Umno’s declared pullout from working with Bersatu is not a permanent decision but a strategic one because it does not stop them from working again with Bersatu post GE15 depending on how the results go, ” he said.
“The general mood is that the party election for this year may be postponed for 18 months, thus preserving Ahmad Zahid’s power as President to select candidates for GE15.”
According to Leong, kluster mesra bunga, may appear to be the loser.
“But with no minister or deputy minister quitting the government and the prime minister’s statement that his cabinet and government was intact, it goes to show that the kluster mesra bunga, in fact has won, ” he said.
“There is no rush for Muhyiddin to call for a snap GE this year. He is working to shore up his majority to withstand any vote of no confidence.”
Did Umno make a langkah sumbang when it performed silat pulut during the AGM?
“Silat pulut is a deadly martial art for people who know it. It has two versions - display and fighting, ” said Prof Dr Jak Othman, head of Martial Arts Science faculty at the Institute of Physical Science, Culture and Arts Malaysia.
The silat master explained that the display version was like a game of tag for entertainment at events. “In the fighting version, the moves become lightning-fast – striking vital points to destroy with the spirit of amok (fight to the death defending one’s country and family), ” he said.
Which silat pulut did pendekar (warrior) Ahmad Zahid used in the Umno AGM?