From Ibrahim M Ahmad
If Monday’s events were anything to go by, Umno must be in a state of chaos.
Based on FMT’s reports, 158 out of 191 division chiefs scuttled their way to see party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and deputy Mohamad Hasan at the World Trade Centre Kuala Lumpur. Later, a delegation of top officials was dispatched to see Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob at Seri Perdana in Putrajaya.
The purpose, apparently, was to convince Ismail to call for a general election immediately.
Zahid and Mohamad have been pushing for GE15 for some time now. Ismail, however, remains unmoved.
As prime minister, that decision is his prerogative. He can bide his time. For Zahid, though, that window is quickly closing, no thanks to his ongoing criminal case and the new saga that has erupted around the littoral combat ships, which some are dubbing the 1MDB of 2022.
With Najib Razak out of the picture, the battle to lead the party ought to be a straight fight between Zahid and Ismail. The only problem is that neither wants to take the risk of losing a leadership tussle.
The same can be said about the present occupants of seats on the party’s Supreme Council. Everyone is averse to risk. No one wants to lose his or her place for fear of being cast into political oblivion.
That must be why Umno was keen to postpone party elections until after GE15. Party leaders want to secure their seats in Parliament first so that they retain their relevance when contesting for positions within the party.
The reality, however, is that by postponing party elections, Umno has missed a trick.
It has lost the chance to refresh its leadership and draw in new talent. It has failed to grasp the opportunity of showing party grassroots and those outside that it is capable of change for the better.
That is exactly what PKR appears to have done during their party elections which ended last month. A new central leadership has emerged which is now able to chart a particular course as GE15 approaches.
Umno, on the other hand, has been mired in a leadership crisis since Najib was forced to step down in May 2018.
Weighed down by his own difficulties, Zahid’s continued stewardship of the party has stifled its progress and casts a long shadow over its future.
Ismail’s position as prime minister means that he will hog the limelight in the lead up to GE15. He will not want to give that control up so easily.
Having said that, Ismail’s pedigree remains questionable. He has not by any stretch of the imagination set the political scene alight during his year in office, although to his credit, he did sign a memorandum of understanding with Pakatan Harapan and has instituted reforms, which have earned him some measure of respect.
Despite that, Umno’s success is by no means assured with him at the helm.
Clearly, Umno has been lulled into complacency by its success in recent by-elections. As Mohamad himself admitted during that disastrous Asia Times interview, those victories were in large part secured by drawing on the charms of “Bossku”.
That was a reinvention which Najib underwent to maintain his relevance to the public at large.
Deposed as prime minister and forced to step down as party leader after defeat at GE14, Najib morphed into “Bossku”, a one-man publicity machine who drew attention to himself by going to the ground to meet ordinary folk and creating a massive presence on social media.
With “Bossku” no longer in the picture, a huge void has opened which no one from the party’s present leadership is able to fill.
Without reinventing itself, Umno might as well be prepared for the worst. Perhaps, a lengthy stint in the opposition will force through the change it needs.
Ibrahim M Ahmad is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.