SINGAPORE: Typically, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the President of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), is the epitome of suave.
These days, nonetheless, he seems to be edgy, ruffled, and not sure. In half, that is as a result of new regular in Malaysian politics, characterised by slimmer parliamentary majorities, inner coalition fissures and UMNO’s non-dominant place.
The final challenge cuts deeply, as UMNO leaders are accustomed to being the primary with out equals in any coalition. And, provided that their celebration contributes the best variety of MPs to the sitting Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration, they keenly really feel the injustice of the celebration not occupying the prime ministership and selection Cabinet positions.
The proposed salve for the wound is for the grand outdated celebration to return to the apex of energy – through a newly-forged parliamentary majority or early elections.
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A SENSE OF URGENCY
Bolstering UMNO’s profile has consumed Zahid’s consideration over the previous months. There is a way of urgency because the celebration’s similarities to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) means its help base could also be cannibalised.
Nonetheless, a few of Zahid’s latest strikes are shocking. For instance, he wrote to Muhyiddin in late February, stating that UMNO wouldn’t collectively contest the following election with PN.
Beyond leaping the gun, this transfer doesn’t make tactical sense as it’s prone to encourage Muhyiddin to place off elections and additional develop into UMNO territory.
There are a number of components for Zahid’s angst. First, as soon as famend for its self-discipline and inner cohesion, UMNO is now divided and Zahid is wanting more and more weak.
There are three seen teams within the celebration. The first is “the Court Cluster”, led by the likes of Zahid, former PM Najib Razak, and senior celebration apparatchiks who face a bevy of corruption circumstances. They are searching for early elections and clemency for his or her authorized travails.
The second includes members akin to Hishammuddin Hussein and Khairy Jamaluddin, who get pleasure from good relations with Muhyiddin, maintain Cabinet positions and are much less desirous to go for elections.
The third group consists of celebration moderates, akin to UMNO Deputy President Mohamad Hasan. Largely from the south of the nation, they don’t seem to be within the Cabinet and would love UMNO to return to energy – however aren’t essentially eager for the Court Cluster to regain management.
This infighting will increase Zahid’s picture drawback. For all of dwelling reminiscence, the UMNO celebration president has been the prime minister.
However, provided that Zahid just isn’t, he has much less wherewithal to demand compliance. There are actually frequent requires him to step down, together with from celebration veterans akin to former Deputy Prime Minister Musa Hitam.
UMNO’s celebration elections are due quickly and Zahid could also be challenged by one or each of the opposite teams for his place. The Supreme Council will shortly resolve whether or not to carry celebration elections this 12 months or, as is allowed by the celebration’s structure, delay them by as much as 18 months.
Given the celebration president’s prerogative to nominate a variety of its members, it’s possible that UMNO’s apex physique will vote to delay the election.
While this can give Zahid some respiratory room, he faces one other, larger supply of stress.
The UMNO president faces a minimum of 87 fees of felony breach of belief, bribery, and cash laundering. The trial for the primary 47 fees pertains to transactions totalling RM117 million (US$28 million) linked to his charitable basis Yayasan Akalbudi.
Since it started in November 2019 it has been delayed a minimum of 15 occasions attributable to requests for Zahid to journey to Sabah for the state elections or to self-isolate following a contact with a COVID-19 case.
Regardless, the prosecution has referred to as on 90 witnesses and has however a handful to go. Given the quantity of proof introduced, it’s unlikely the High Court will dismiss the case, opting, as an alternative, to require Zahid to enter a defence. Despite foreseeable delays, it’s possible that the trial will conclude this 12 months.
A POTENTIAL LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE
In the occasion of a conviction, it’s unlikely that Zahid will go to jail, as he has the sources to contest the choice on the Appeals Court after which the Federal Court. However, extra worrying for him would be the efficient finish of his celebration presidency.
A provision of the influential Societies Act states that anybody sentenced to longer than one 12 months’s imprisonment or a effective larger than RM2,000 will probably be barred from occupying any office-bearing place in a registered society akin to a political celebration.
With Najib Razak additionally barred from contesting following his conviction final 12 months, Zahid’s elimination would throw the competition for the celebration’s management huge open.
In the interim, Deputy President Mohamad Hasan would assume management of the celebration. Well-liked and unburdened by corruption allegations, he can be a powerful candidate.
Faced with the mounting well being and financial prices of COVID-19, the conviction of a senior UMNO politician can be a boon to Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration.
And, UMNO, which has sought to capitalise on Perikatan Nasional’s missteps can be pressured to take a tough look inward.
Listen to Malaysians dealing with a brand new wave of COVID-19 share their very totally different experiences of dwelling by means of the pandemic in Johor, Kuala Lumpur and Sabah:
Francis E Hutchinson is Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Malaysia Studies Programme on the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. This commentary first appeared on fulcrum.sg.