There’s talk of a need for new leadership. But is this the right thing to do?
THERE’S growing sentiment in Umno that Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi should resign. Even those who support or sympathise with him feel he should do the right thing and step aside as party president.
Unlike those in Umno’s kluster mesra bunga (those friendly with the flower, the symbol of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia), these leaders and members of the grassroots are not loud about their view that Ahmad Zahid should sacrifice his political ambitions to save the party.
“They are saying it quietly, that it is time for the president to think of the party. They don’t want to pressure him. They understand his position, that he has been prosecuted for his refusal to disband the party. But given the circumstances, we have to move forward, ” explained an Umno insider.
“The party needs to survive. We need new momentum going into GE15. The party needs to be accepted by the voters as the first choice to govern the nation. Umno’s leader needs to be someone suitable to be the party’s poster boy, to be the Prime Minister of Malaysia.”
Ahmad Zahid is seen as a liability in the party that had ruled Malaysia since Merdeka in 1957. After its shocking defeat in GE14 in 2018, Umno is now being led by a politician who is facing 87 corruption charges. With that hanging over his head, the Bagan Datoh MP is perceived as an unsuitable prime minister candidate for GE15.
For most Umno leaders as well as the grassroots, it would be better for their president to settle his personal problems without dragging the party into them.
“Perhaps Zahid wants to exhaust all avenues that are available to him. But it looks like he has done that – including asking the then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and then current Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin for fair treatment of his cases, ” the Umno insider said.
“We hope and pray fervently that he realises that at the end of the day, the party comes first, and he has to realise that he has exhausted all avenues.
“The only available option for him is to step aside and allow the party to win the election. And after the party wins GE15, then he can get a fair deal on his corruption cases.”
Earlier this week, the embattled Umno president was hit with an audio recording controversy. In the recording of a telephone conversation allegedly between PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Ahmad Zahid, two voices sounding like the two leaders discuss the recent Umno annual general assembly. The conversation contradicts the stand which Umno took at the AGM, which was “no Anwar, no DAP”.
Both Anwar and Ahmad Zahid have denied the authenticity of the recording.
Even without this latest controversy, most Umno leaders and grassroots members think it is time for the party president to step aside:
“Those sympathetic to Zahid argue that the Umno president has claimed that it is not him. And they say that even a video recording (allegedly of Datuk Seri Azmin Ali in a hotel room in Sandakan, Sabah) was not accepted, what more an audio recording. They say that it is all acting, ” said the Umno insider.
However, those in the kluster mesra bunga are using the audio recording to pressure Ahmad Zahid to step down or call for party polls.
Ahmad Zahid’s three-year term as president ends in June. The party constitution states that the supreme council can postpone party elections up to 18 months for any viable reason, such as the party’s polls being too close to a general election.
Will the Umno president call for party polls?
The Umno insider explained that the party cannot afford an election now as it would be “competitive and bruising”. He said those who lose would go into “mourning” for six months to a year. Or worse, they might join Bersatu.
“There are seasoned operatives at the grassroots level. If they lose, say, in a deputy branch chief contest, it will be fertile ground for dissent as Umno has a winner take all attitude. The ground might break, and the losing candidates might join Bersatu, ” he said.
“Bersatu, which has no grassroots support, would be willing and ready to accept them. It is in the Perikatan Nasional government, and it can offer positions or benefits to these seasoned political operatives.”
For some in Umno, it would be better to postpone party polls, especially if Ahmad Zahid steps down.
If that happens, who will be Umno’s acting president?
According to the Umno insider, the most suitable candidate is naturally the party’s deputy president, Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan.
If that happens, it would be the second time the Rantau assemblyman finds himself in the position – he was acting president for about six months when Ahmad Zahid went on “garden leave” in 2019 to deal with corruption charges and also to stop Umno MPs from leaving the party.
“Mat Hasan could be the party’s poster boy for GE15 without a bruising party election. He can be a unifying figure for the party as we go into the elections. He can be our candidate to be prime minister, ” the Umno insider said.
On what role former Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak could play in the party’s leadership crisis, the Umno insider said he could take the statesman’s role.
“Najib might have the statesman-like strength to talk sense into Zahid, ” he said.
What are the chances that Ahmad Zahid will step down? Well, the party president is famous for having his “own mind”, the Umno insider said.
“If you are surrounded by your core supporters – who perceive they will lose their standing in the party if the president goes – they might persuade him to stay on by saying that the Umno elders saying he should step aside are looking after their own self-interest, ” he said.
The big question is whether Ahmad Zahid will know what is the right thing to do. And also whether he has the courage to sacrifice himself to do the right thing for the good of Umno.