IT is a sign of the times that an embattled Umno president can rally the ground, talk tough, put detractors on the retreat, and make a show, at least, that he is pretty much in charge, making firm decisions on the way forward.
Despite him facing 47 charges for criminal breach of trust, bribery and money laundering involving his foundation, Yayasan Akalbudi, he has put his best foot forward and sent a clear message that he will not brook dissent from Umno ministers and other leaders.
How he does it is in the way he wields the power he has as Umno president. He knows full well that he decides who stands where in the next elections, and realises, too, that if an Umno leader throws in his lot with Bersatu, he, at best, has to stand as a Bersatu candidate. There’s not much chance that the dissenter will win.
Umno leaders know that and will stay with him – they can’t risk raising his ire – despite the fact that he faces the grim prospect of being found guilty on his criminal charges, which will put him away in jail for many years and see him fined millions of ringgit.
He has made clear what he wants as Umno leader: no Bersatu, and the alliance lasts only as long as the emergency. He denies talking to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim about working together either directly or through intermediaries – no PKR, no DAP. He makes no bones that he wants Umno to spearhead any coalition that it is part of; not Bersatu, not PAS, not PKR.
Why he even talks of a two-thirds majority together with PAS, and has more than hinted that he intends to strengthen Islamic legislation, changing even the constitution to ensure the word “Allah” is used only in Islam, and that unnatural sex acts under Islamic enactments and orders will continue to be defined as such under civil law.
He is playing all the right cards to attract Malay votes. It might backfire, however, in terms of the Malays who hold a more moderate view of Islam, and definitely with non-Malays and non-Muslims, and those in East Malaysia. It’s a balancing act, but he has stated his views.
He wants early elections. It is easy to see why. With 47 charges against him, it is pretty likely that some will stick. And if his trials conclude and he is convicted, he can’t stand for Parliament even if the decision is under appeal.
His predecessor, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, for instance, can’t stand for a parliamentary seat in the event of new elections due to convictions. Article 48(e) of the federal constitution states: “Subject to the provisions of this article, a person is disqualified for being a member of either House of Parliament if he has been convicted of an offence by a court of law in the Federation… and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than one year or to a fine of not less than RM2,000, and has not received a free pardon.”
This disqualifies Najib from standing for an MP’s position, and it will disqualify Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, too, the moment he is convicted. The implications are that if convicted, Zahid will most likely have to pass the baton to someone else to lead Umno into the elections, because he cannot become an MP, and therefore, will also not become prime minister. But if he becomes prime minister, his powers are extensive, giving him plenty of leverage and buying him time.
Another thing that early elections will do for Zahid is, he can strike the iron while it is red-hot, when both Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional are in disarray as a direct result of their Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad-induced split, and when Malay and non-Malay disillusionment with them are at the highest point.
Where does that leave Bersatu? Nowhere. If elections are held now, the big loser will be Bersatu – and the big gainer, Umno. Not sure how PKR will pan out, though, but with the Umno-PAS axis leaning towards strengthening Islam, DAP will get its Chinese/non-Malay votes. But how much will it depend on Malay votes in marginal areas? That’s an open question.
Bersatu could go extinct in early elections, with Malay support clearly in favour of Umno, PAS, Amanah and PKR, and non-Malay support going down to insignificant levels, with no backing from DAP or PKR.
Its possible extinction in early elections is why Bersatu will postpone the vote for as long as it can, or “buy” over MPs to maintain a majority – an impossibility if Umno withdraws support. Bersatu and PN will fall in that event, unless it can make a deal with PH: PKR, DAP and Amanah.
Impossible, you say? Dr Mahathir and Anwar were on the same side, remember, when that was thought to be impossible, although the former played out the latter eventually. Just for fun, watch this video on Dr Mahathir by his first deputy, Tun Musa Hitam, on “you can’t trust Mahathir”.
The most wily politicians in Malaysia still come from Umno and its offshoots, which include Bersatu and elements in PKR – no one can beat them for the sheer audacity and mischievousness of their plans. The Sheraton Move was one of their many manoeuvres over the years. Not the place to elaborate here.
If Umno plans to work with PH or PKR, one has to suspect that the former will make use of the latter to destabilise the current government and cause fresh elections to be called. PKR/PH will go ahead with an initial plan, only to see that Umno has also withdrawn support for them, leaving elections the only option.
And does PH want elections right now? No, it needs to consolidate after the bruising battle of Sheraton, and recover from the treachery of Dr Mahathir, Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. It stands a better chance in 2023, provided that it gets its act together.
Zahid gave a fine demonstration of how that can be done. When his back was right against the wall, he came out swinging and took some big opponents down. Now, that’s what PH and Anwar should be doing, don’t you think? – The Vibes, March 30, 2021
P. Gunasegaram says appearances can be deceiving, especially when Umno is involved. He is executive director of Sekhar Institute and editorial consultant of The Vibes