With power comes rifts: the revival of interest in Umno’s top post

Umno is seen making early preparations for party polls next year, its first since returning to power under a new alliance.

KUALA LUMPUR: A rift is slowly widening in Umno as leaders jostle for the top presidential post, just over two months after the party’s return to power following the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government in February.

Party insiders spoke to FMT about how factions were being formed involving six personalities, including the current president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and his former boss Najib Razak.

Also in the “race” are current deputy president Mohamad Hasan, Khairy Jamaluddin and Hishammuddin Hussein.

One surprise entry is Ismail Sabri Yaakob, one of four senior ministers in the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government who has been in the limelight with his daily briefings on Covid-19 security measures.

“He cannot be discounted,” said a source. “He is gaining popularity. Remember, he received the highest votes as vice-president during the last Umno elections.”

Yet, Ismail has been seen as taking a step back, especially as his former bosses Najib and Zahid are still very much on the scene, the source added.

Another to look out for is Mohamad, who was thrust into the centre of Umno in the wake of the party’s fall from power in the 2018 general election.

Mohamad, fondly known as Tok Mat, has never held a ministerial position.

This alone could have shielded him from the usual allegations thrown at federal leaders in the past, with many saying he is a “good man”.

But being “good” is not enough of a weapon to survive in Umno’s power play.

“It may not lead you anywhere because you cannot deal with the ugly side of politics,” a senior party man told FMT.

The contest for the Umno presidency was last held in June 2018, a month after the party was booted out of federal power. The next election is due in 2021.

Meanwhile, things are not going well between Najib and Zahid, the face of the Umno-led government before its historic defeat at the polls.

Within party circles, it is an open secret that their rivalry began shortly after Zahid went on leave despite handsomely winning the president’s post, on the back of multiple corruption charges.

It was during this time that Najib mustered support from the ground with his Bossku tagline.

When Zahid ended his garden leave in June last year, the rift between both men became more apparent.

Still, those supporting Najib, Zahid, Ismail and Mohamad may be part of the same crowd, said the source again.

As for Hishammuddin, the current foreign minister, he has been quietly consolidating his position.

The absence of charges against him under the PH government, despite being a key face of the Najib administration, appears to be working in his favour.

“At least 18 out of the 39 Umno MPs support him,” claims a source close to party warlords.

But whether Hishammuddin can withstand the onslaught of more aggressive and “battle-savvy” leaders like Najib and Zahid remains to be seen.

As for Khairy, his defeat to Zahid in the presidential election two years ago showed that his public speaking skills were not enough to pull in the votes.

“The KJ brand didn’t work the last time despite his oratory skill,” said the source.

For now, it’s unclear who’s in charge in Umno.

But its share of federal power under the PN government has brought to the fore the allure of party posts again.

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