While everyone is focused on the electoral battle now going on in Johor, there is another much more important clandestine battle going on. This is the battle for the Umno leadership.
There is a strong sentiment at the hustings that Umno and its Barisan Nasional partners are going to do very well in the March 12 state assembly elections.
The results will define the dominant Malay party, and force the opposition to re-combine in another way, due to the almost certain PKR thrashing.
However, the glitz of newcomers such as Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman’s Muda and Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Perjuang, with Warisan also making a guest appearance, hides something that will be even more important than the coming general election, due by the third quarter of next year.
There is another campaign going on within the Johor election campaign – the struggle to prove who should be, and will be, the natural leader of Umno.
Former prime minister Najib Razak, who has been convicted for graft, has been enthusiastically campaigning and drawing massive crowds along his whistlestop tour of Johor. With 4.6 million followers on Facebook, Najib yesterday made a post saying “Maszlee, I’m at Simpang Renggam”, showing his audaciousness.
Mahathir, fresh out of the National Heart Institute after treatment, has also gone to the hustings in Johor telling voters not to elect “crooks and thieves as leaders of government”, taking direct aim at Najib.
However, this may work counterintuitively.
Najib’s media advisers have successfully reframed his persona to rural voters, at least, as someone politically hounded by Mahathir. The “Malu apa Bossku” persona seems to transcend the countless commentators and articles written about the immorality and bad deeds of Najib.
Being a convicted felon, and out on bail pending an appeal that the Najib legal forces are trying to delay as long as possible, makes this a high-stakes game not just for Najib, but also for Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is facing a long list of charges himself.
Former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin and his successor, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, have not given them the “get out of jail” card they wanted – Najib to have his appeal upheld, and Zahid to have charges dropped.
This isn’t happening, and time will eventually run out.
Rumour has it that they also tried to do a deal with Anwar Ibrahim at Pakatan Harapan. This obviously didn’t happen.
Political ‘blood sport’ at Umno elections
Umno deputy president and BN electoral chief Mohamad Hasan, known as Tok Mat, is pushing for an early general election. Tok Mat issued a challenge to Ismail to convince the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to dissolve parliament or resign. Tok Mat is also credited as saying whether Umno performs well or poorly in the Johor elections, there should be an early federal election.
Pro-Ismail cybertroopers are claiming that Tok Mat has disrespected the King, while pro-Najib and Zahid cybertroopers are stepping up their war on Ismail’s performance as prime minister.
In effect, Najib and Zahid have become the nation’s covert opposition.
There is even a step up in the leakage of information attacking Ismail’s confidants such as health minister Khairy Jamaluddin for his handling of the vaccine rollout.
International trade and industry minister Azmin Ali is under attack for favouritism towards allowing certain businesses to remain open during the MCOs.
Helping hand from Daim
The fiercest criticism of the Ismail government is not coming from the opposition camp.
Ismail appears to have an invisible helping hand from Mahathir loyalists such as Daim Zainuddin, who is strongly rumoured to be assisting pro-Ismail candidates for the Umno party elections.
An early general election is better to save Najib from prison, and Zahid from being convicted. If Umno wins power and Zahid is still un-convicted and Umno president, he will have influence over Ismail in his position as prime minister.
Tok Mat as proxy?
Heavy campaigning is already going on within the party for the coming party elections. It’s not certain that Zahid can hold on to the presidency. It will be a tough fight and there is a lot of money out there against him.
Najib is showing he is still a formidable force within Umno, and he has electoral appeal, notwithstanding his conviction and all the other allegations against him.
There is talk that the Najib-Zahid forces will pull out a proxy candidate to challenge Ismail for the Umno presidency.
One of the favourites is Tok Mat, who projects himself much more moderately than Ismail, and has a respectable track record as Negeri Sembilan menteri besar, and in corporate banking before that.
The prime objective for the Najib-Zahid forces is to achieve a result that will lead to withdrawal of convictions and charges, or even a pardon if need be. Pardons in Malaysia are now political, as the Anwar Ibrahim pardon provides a precedent that will no doubt be used to support any future move for a pardon.
This is disappointing for those in Malaysia who want a government run by “un-corrupt”’ leaders, or want to see reforms. No matter which side wins, these aspirations won’t be met. This Umno showdown won’t bring political stability either.
It will only allow Malaysian politics to keep drifting in the same direction, and bring more political theatre.
Source : FMT