Najib set to retain control of Umno through new club seen as party’s ‘deep state’

A new club of Umno division chiefs could be used as a weapon by Najib Razak, who remains popular in the party, say analysts.

PETALING JAYA: A political analyst speculates that former prime minister Najib Razak is making moves to strengthen his position in Umno with the formation of a club for the party’s division heads.

Speaking to FMT, Awang Azman Pawi of Universiti Malaya noted that the club was an initiative of Najib’s and predicted he would become its president.

He said the club would be used as a power broker in party elections.

“The agenda behind it is to make it a weapon to decide on election candidates chosen by the club.”

Azman meanwhile praised the speakers at last week’s Umno general assembly, saying the quality of the debate seemed to have improved.

He said there was an awareness among delegates of a need to fix the party, following its fall from power last year.

But he said the move to set up the club would take the shine off the impressive assembly because it would be detrimental to Umno.

Azmi Hassan of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia agreed with Azman, saying any sign that Najib was making a political comeback in Umno could be injurious to the party as well as to the Muafakat Nasional alliance with PAS.

He said that division chiefs hold a significant position in Umno’s hierarchy and said anyone commanding the support of such a club could use it as a powerful tool.

Azmi said the club as akin to a deep state.

“If it’s true that the purpose of the club is to prop up Najib, then it’s good for Najib but bad for Umno,” he said.

“Even if the real intent is not to prop up Najib, it’s not good for Umno as long as the perception is that it’s for his benefit.”

He acknowledged that Najib’s popularity was surging at the grassroots but said Umno did not need him as a decision maker as its current leadership was strong enough to spearhead the party’s effort to reclaim Putrajaya.

“His time is already past. He can help Umno and the nation by virtue of his vast experience, but not through official channels, such as in being in control in Umno.”

He said Najib’s current position as chairman of the Barisan Nasional’s advisory board should be enough for the former Umno president, adding that he had proven to be effective in the role, as shown by the coalition’s victory in the Tanjung Piai by-election.