Umno appears to be collapsing.
In the first election for the then Federal Legislative Council in 1955, Umno won 34 of 55 seats. In 2004, it held 109 of the 219 seats. In the May 9 general election, it won 54 of 222 parliamentary seats, making it the largest party in Parliament.
Today, due to its MPs leaving in droves, it has just 37 representatives. The talk is that more are on the way out, and that most of them plan to join PPBM.
Umno members, especially the division leaders, have only themselves to blame. They displayed the very attitude that their former president Dr Mahathir Mohamad eschews in the Malays: wanting everything easy without working hard.
Because Umno wielded absolute power, divisional party leaders became used to having things their way – including easily getting contracts or other favours from the government and substantial funding from Umno headquarters. They became entangled in what Dr Mahathir calls a “cash is king” culture.
In the process, they became divorced from reality and lost, or conveniently set aside, the moral compass.
But the seeds of the greed for power and money, many that I have spoken to say, were planted by Dr Mahathir himself in his first stint as prime minister when he attempted to make the Malays rich. That’s another story, of course.
If Umno delegates to the June annual assembly of the party had read the mood of the nation correctly, they would have voted for either Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah or Khairy Jamaluddin, instead of Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, as party president and forged a new path.
Now, the party is breaking up, as MPs and grassroot leaders abandon it.
But by jumping ship at the slightest indication of trouble, they only reveal themselves for what they are: chameleons interested in self-preservation. Ordinary Malaysians that I have been talking to are convinced the exodus has been fuelled by two considerations: the search for a new gravy train and the hope of escaping possible investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency.
Zahid himself indicated this in his speech at an Umno retreat in Temerloh earlier. He said: “In times of defeat, when the party is down, there are those who do not think about what is good for the party, but how to save themselves from being investigated (and) being prosecuted.”
Poor Zahid. I don’t know how long he will last as the calls for his resignation are increasing day by day. Those who have quit the party, especially from Sabah, blame him for not having a direction for the party following the May 9 debacle.
In fact quite a number of the deserters say they are doing so because of the lack of direction on the part of Zahid. Some Umno leaders, such as former minister Abdul Rahmad Dahlan, have admitted that the party indeed lacks direction.
That is, of course, one reason for the exodus.
I happen to think that another reason Umno’s elected representatives are abandoning ship is because Dr Mahathir the master tactician has set a direction for them, and Umno.
Since becoming prime minister, he has allowed the police and MACC to go after those in Umno suspected of criminal acts during Najib’s administration. Both Najib and Zahid are facing various charges, as are several other Umno leaders. The MACC froze the accounts of Umno headquarters in June, virtually cutting off the juice to leaders and divisions.
Due to the police and MACC probes and court cases, all the alleged dirt about some Umno leaders has come to the full attention of the public, including Umno members. This has unsettled quite a number of party members, even causing frustration and anger.
Also, Dr Mahathir has met a number of Umno MPs and there are claims that he invited them to join PPBM, which he chairs. Whatever he has or hasn’t promised them, he appears bent on dismantling Umno.
Zahid said not too long ago that Dr Mahathir had asked him to disband Umno. Agreeing, Dr Mahathir said it was because Umno had lost sight of its original spirit and was as good as dead.
It is understandable why Dr Mahathir doesn’t like the Umno of today. Under Najib, Umno humiliated the man who had led it for more than 20 years and Dr Mahathir may not be so forgiving.
Remember, Umno leaders such as Hishammuddin Hussein and Nazri Aziz had called for Dr Mahathir and his family to be probed over their wealth and whether they had made the money while he was prime minister?
Remember, in August 2017, Zahid showed a copy of an identity card with the words “Mahathir a/l Iskandar Kutty”, in trying to show that Dr Mahathir had Indian blood, was not a true Malay and was politically exploiting the Malays.
Remember the sacking of Dr Mahathir as Petronas adviser, and the police investigation against him for allegedly spreading “fake news” when he claimed he suspected someone had tried to sabotage the private plane that was to fly him from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi to file his candidacy to contest in GE14?
The Najib government also ordered a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Bank Negara Malaysia’s forex losses in the 1990s, forcing Dr Mahathir to defend himself.
To me, such tactics are part of politics, and Dr Mahathir is known to have played more manipulative games than these.
What I didn’t like was police subjecting his wife Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali to questioning over a speech she had delivered on Sept 10 last year. I thought that was hitting below the belt. The fight should have been with Dr Mahathir, not his wife.
I am certain that must have infuriated her husband.
Also, Umno was at one time a respected party but today it has become the brunt of jokes and even despised by a section of society. It will surely pain a man who had helped strengthen it to accept the current situation.
I believe we are seeing the results of all these factors combined playing out today.
The only worry is that PPBM may accept all or most of the Umno leaders and members and soon become a new version of Umno. Malaysians do not want a New Umno; they voted for a New Malaysia.
A Kathirasen is executive editor at FMT.
The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.