An Umno flag is seen before the 2021 Umno General Assembly which will take place from tomorrow at Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur March 15, 2022. — Picture by Devan Manuel
KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 — Umno delegates will vote to amend the party’s constitution at the extraordinary general meeting (EGM) today in a move leaders said is meant to prevent division.
The goal of today’s meeting is to “formalise” the decision to set party elections only after a general election is held.
Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, Umno’s deputy president, suggested the move would help the party avoid the infighting that often followed party polls in the past, and allow it to focus on winning federal power.
“Even though last month the proposal was voted and agreed on by the delegates the EGM will be much more important because between the last Umno general assembly and now there has been calls by certain Umno factions that internal polls should be held before the general election,” said Azmi Hassan, a senior fellow at the Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research.
“So it is very critical for this Sunday that a convincing majority is secured at the EGM everyone will be looking at how solid the support for the amendment would be,” he added.
Umno’s historic defeat at the 2018 general election was said to have birthed pro-reform factions that wanted to unseat Zahid and remnants of the old guards, as they pushed for new blood with a clean public image to take over.
Now, there are rumours that these factions have rallied behind Prime Minister and Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is said to be bidding for more time to consolidate his own position.
Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, alongside his still influential predecessor, convicted former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, are said to be putting pressure on Ismail to dissolve Parliament quickly and hold a general election as soon as possible, ostensibly as a way to influence the outcome of their corruption trials.
Umno’s strong showing at the Melaka and Johor state polls, which pundits said were mostly aided by poor turnout and public political fatigue, have spurred confidence. Several leaders have said Umno could sweep to federal power with a convincing majority if national polls are held this year.
Najib has filed an appeal against his conviction for the laundering and embezzlement of RM42 million of SRC International funds. He is still on trial for charges that he misappropriated over RM2 billion of 1MDB monies.
Umno leaders like Shahril Hamdan, the party’s information chief, have rubbished claims about the alleged fissure between Ismail and Zahid’s camp. Zahid recently announced that Ismail will remain as prime minister if Umno wins the 15th general election, which has been read as an attempt to circumvent any attempt to sow division.
Shahril told Malay Mail that the proposition to tweak the party’s constitution at the EGM will be a “straightforward” affair with “brief formal proceedings” sans any attempt at shaming the party president.
“You can expect straightforward and brief formal proceedings to pass the constitutional amendment,” he said.
James Chin, political analyst with the University of Tasmania, predicted little controversy at today’s meeting, but said the absence of any key leaders could be seen as a symbolic protest.
“It will be straightforward as it is not controversial but (if) Ismail Sabri does not show up it will send a signal there is no complete unity in the party,” he opined.
Kartini Aboo Talib, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political analyst, suggested the attempt to delay party elections signalled the supremacy of factions in Umno that favoured the status quo instead of reform.
“The power struggle continues to dominate the thoughts and actions in Umno EGM. Factions and money politics supersede the idea of transformation in Umno, and delegates will have to juggle money, idealism, and pragmatism,” she told Malay Mail.