Once the backbone of Barisan Nasional, the coalition which helmed Malaysia in one form or another since independence, the country’s largest party, Umno, is scrambling to forge a path forward after the opposition Pakatan Harapan’s shock victory in the May 9 election.
On Saturday (June 30), about 146,000 delegates in 191 divisions went to the polls to determine who will take over Umno’s top posts, including the top job of party president, The Star reported.
Deputy Prime Minister to former premier Najib Razak, Umno’s acting president Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was named the party’s new president after winning 93 votes. His main rivals, former Umno Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin and Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, bagged 51 and 23 votes respectively, according to Bernama.
The change of leadership comes at a turbulent time for Umno. Barisan Nasional, the coalition in which it once played a dominant role, has all but disintegrated, rapidly sliding from 13 parties to the three original members that made up its predecessor, the Alliance party. Umno’s former chief, Najib, is currently under investigation in the multibillion dollar 1MDB scandal that brought down his government and the party’s accounts have been frozen as investigations continue. Its newly-minted president, Zahid, is also being questioned on the matter.
Prior to Saturday’s polls, Ahmad Zahid pledged sweeping reforms to the party structure to shed its elitist image and to boost accountability, The Star reported.
“In this new era, the rakyat does not want any barrier between them and the Umno leadership,” he is quoted in The Star as saying.
Ahmad Zahid also vowed to make it more inclusive stating that, “members should feel free to voice out any discontent, and the leadership must be ready to absorb it without any protocol or aloofness.”
Despite the promised reforms, not everyone is happy with the outcome of Umno’s election.
Former Puteri Umno chief Mas Ermieyati Samsudin recently left the party over its failure to appoint new leaders, stating that she had hoped that Umno would be steered in a “new direction” during the polls, the Star reported.
“I hoped to see Umno members choose at least 70 per cent of fresh faces as leaders, but that did not happen,” she said, according to The Star.
“What sort of election is this, if the virus is left to spread and the medicine is too bitter to swallow,” said Mas on Sunday.
Unsuccessful candidate Khairy took to twitter to air his complaints, accusing “warlords” of skewing the results.
“Popular vote statistics show that majority of Umno members want change. But the ballot system is in favour of warlords who have a strong grip on their divisions,” Khairy tweeted on Sunday (July 1), according to The Star.
“Many were ordered, threatened, and forced to support the choices of the warlords,” he claimed.
Zahid has dismissed Khairy’s claims.
According The Star, the election was seen as a battle between the old Umno, represented by Zahid and the new Umno, represented by Razaleigh.
Some analysts see Zahid and Khairy as culpable for Umno’s fall, as both were part of Najib’s government whereas Razaleigh was not, The Star reported.
As for what the troubled party can do to become a solid opposition party, Ibrahim Suffian, programmes director of independent pollster Merdeka Center, believes a complete overhaul will be in order.
“Zahid needs to change the thuggish and crude image that is sometimes associated with Umno and attune it to the values of the present electorate if it is [to] be relevant,” Ibrahim told Malay Mail.
He also believed Khairy could have a key role to play.
“If the new leaders are mindful about their future, they should co-opt people like Khairy and deploy them to address the issues hobbling the party,” he told the Malay Mail.