Background deals could be the reason for Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s soft stance in his relationship with his party vice-president, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is now prime minister.
Political analysts say Zahid is not likely to criticise Ismail for appointing his predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin to head the National Recovery Council despite Zahid’s hostility towards the former prime minister.
Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs speculated that Zahid’s faction in Umno was still working out deals with Ismail.
“We are not privy to the kind of deals they have reached or may be trying to secure,” he told FMT. “It could involve Zahid’s presidency going unchallenged by Ismail.”
Any verbal attack could upset the negotiations, he added.
In the early days of Muhyiddin’s administration, Umno was quite supportive of Muhyiddin’s party Bersatu. Disputes started only in September 2020.
Oh said Zahid’s recent statement that Umno would not follow the administration blindly showed that support for Ismail would last only for as long as he ran the country well and honoured his end of a bargain with the party.
He said Zahid would likely go “full throttle” in trying to dismantle Ismail’s administration if their deals were breached or challenged.
A test at Dewan sitting
Awang Azman Pawi of Universiti Malaya said the various factions in Umno were now happy because a party member is prime minister.
“They will work together for the time being because Umno is finally back in the driver’s seat,” he told FMT.
However, their cooperation would be tested in the Dewan Rakyat sitting that starts this Monday, when the government will table the national budget for 2022.
The election of a new deputy speaker is also on the cards because Azalina Othman Said has vacated her seat.
Showing who’s the bigger man
Another analyst, former Universiti Teknologi Malaysia lecturer Azmi Hassan, said Zahid might have deliberately taken a soft approach towards Muhyiddin’s appointment to send a message that he was the bigger man.
Azmi told FMT: “Zahid wants to show that if he had been offered a position he would have turned it down and that Muhyiddin, if he was as big a man, would have done the same as the appointment would be criticised by the public.”
He also said it was possible that the Umno grassroots were not taking offence at Muhyiddin’s appointment because it was not a Cabinet post.
The three analysts agreed that Umno leaders and the grassroots were happy that an Umno man was now prime minister, but they said nothing was certain in politics and resentments might arise again.