A political analyst says Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi could be in trouble if Umno fails to win anything less than 25 seats at the coming Sabah state elections.
Political scientist Wong Chin Huat of the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development said that in the 14th general election, Umno contested 33 seats and won 17, of which eight members had defected to Warisan and Upko and eight to PPBM.
With a total of 73 seats now at stake, Wong said he believed Umno will want to contest over 40 seats, and PPBM will want to keep its eight seats from Umno.
“For PPBM retaining around eight seats is already a victory. For Umno, a failure to get back around 25 to 30 seats would be a big blow,” Wong said.
Aside from the Umno-PPBM dynamic, the opposition’s situation in the state is complicated by a split in the Sabah Umno leadership, with at least half of the division chiefs opposing the appointment of Bung Moktar Radin as the head of the Barisan Nasional election machinery.
It is understood that those who opposed Bung had wanted former Sabah chief minister Musa Aman to lead the charge. Zahid has stuck to his decision to appoint Bung.
Wong said several questions remained answered.
“Will PPBM get to keep the eight seats brought by Umno defectors? If yes, will Umno grassroots boycott PPBM’s campaign there?
“Also, will Bung get to pick all Umno candidates and will he sideline Musa’s men? In an event of a wafer-thin victory, if Musa’s power is weakened, will PPBM’s well-respected Hajiji Mohd Noor or Masidi Manjun emerge as the compromise candidates to be chief minister, instead of Bung?”
Wong said the coming election will be a testing ground for the Umno-PPBM seat rivalry. If they do badly in the 17 seats won by Umno at GE14, it would probably be attributed to their rivalry.
“If PPBM does relatively better than Umno they would be in a stronger position to negotiate seats in the coming national general election.
“Voices in Umno critical of leaders facing trial will grow stronger though I don’t think Zahid’s position will be immediately challenged before the court delivers the verdict in his corruption case.”
As for Sabah Umno, Wong said if the party did not do well because of the rivalry between Musa and Bung, it should turn to “cleaner, new faces” like Abdul Rahman Dahlan.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s Azmi Hassan believes it will be Rahman who will be blamed for an Umno loss in Sabah, because he took the lead in opposing Bung’s appointment.
He said Bung had kept his cool in the face of opposition and avoided escalating the issue.
“A loss will be a blow to Umno but it would not be a total disaster for Umno or Zahid,” he said. A loss in the Sabah elections would not affect Zahid’s position.
Even if Umno lost, PPBM would not gain where the power play was concerned as the state elections had no bearing on parliamentary seats.