Zahid’s bright political stars

Last year, my politician of the year was Pakatan Harapan chairman and PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who defied all odds to be Prime Minister. This year, so far, it is Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid, whose political stars align, says the writer.


April 4, 2023

KUALA LUMPUR – THREE months into 2023, if you ask me who my Malaysian politician of the year is, it has to be Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Last year, my politician of the year was Pakatan Harapan chairman and PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who defied all odds to be Prime Minister. This year, so far, it is Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid, whose political stars align.

Let’s do it in chronological order.

On Friday, the Bagan Datok MP got his man – Datuk Seri Ab Rauf Yusoh – sworn in as the 13th Melaka Chief Minister. On Wednesday, Ahmad Zahid practically forced Datuk Seri Sulaiman Md Ali to quit as Chief Minister when the Umno president announced that the resignation was due to health factors.

A question mark remains on how “sick” Sulaiman was that he wanted to quit the powerful post in Melaka.

On March 27, the Deputy Prime Minister obtained permanent access to his passports from the court for his travel abroad in his official capacity. His travel document – personal and diplomatic passports – was surrendered to the court as part of his bail condition as he is facing criminal charges at the High Court.

Despite still facing 47 charges – 12 of criminal breach of trust, eight of corruption and 27 of money laundering involving tens of millions of ringgit belonging to Yayasan Akalbudi – which his defence was called, Ahmad Zahid is a free man to go abroad to represent Malaysia.

In the Umno polls on March 19, Ahmad Zahid strengthened his grip on Umno when his loyalists swept most of the top posts – two out of three vice-president posts and the supreme council.

On Jan 27, Umno supreme council sacked Khairy Jamaluddin and suspended for six years Sembrong MP Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who were seen as a threat within the party to its president.

On Jan 14, the Deputy Prime Minister retained his Umno president post when party delegates voted through a motion for its presidency and deputy presidency to be uncontested.

Ahmad Zahid’s political stars did not align in early January. He failed to push for Sabah Umno head Datuk Bung Moktar Radin and Parti Warisan president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal to bring down Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor as Sabah Chief Minister. Despite the Umno president’s Federal power, Bung Moktar lost his Deputy Chief Minister post, and Umno was out of the Sabah government.

Except for the Sabah miscalculation, it has been a good year – so far – for Ahmad Zahid. Not bad for an Umno president who led his party to its worst general election performance ever. In the 15th General Election in November last year, Umno only won 26 seats and got zero parliamentary seats in Selangor, Penang, Kedah, Melaka, Kelantan, Terengganu and Perlis.

Despite Umno being a minor partner in the Anwar Federal government, Ahmad Zahid is arguably one of the most powerful politicians in the country. Without him, PMX (the 10th Prime Minister Anwar) could be XPM (ex-Prime Minister) as Barisan Nasional chairman Ahmad Zahid holds 30 MPs from his coalition.

Without the support of the Umno president, Anwar couldn’t be PM or possibly can’t remain PM. What’s not for the Pakatan crowd to love the Umno president.

Political hatred in Malaysia is seasonal. Before GE15, Ahmad Zahid was probably the most hated politician contesting in the general election for the Pakatan supporters. Now that Ahmad Zahid is Deputy Prime Minister, those in Pakatan who hated him for alleged corruption are silent. Pakatan told the voters that a vote for Barisan was a vote for the Umno president to be PM.

They are happy that Anwar is PM and won’t allow a small matter like Ahmad Zahid to taint their happiness. But the year has not ended. There are nine more months to 2023, and there are signs that Ahmad Zahid’s political stars are misaligning.

On the day Rauf became Melaka Chief Minister, former Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak lost his bid – by a 4-1 decision – to overturn his conviction and sentence by the High Court, which sent him to 12-year imprisonment at the Kajang Prison and a fine of RM210mil. In a cryptic message, Umno members aligned to Najib shared on social media: “Kami suruh tukar Ketua Hakim Negara. Kamu pula tukar Ketua Menteri Melaka (We asked for the Chief Justice to be changed. However, you changed the Melaka Chief Minister).”

The supporters of bossku (as Najib is known), who some see as the power behind Umno, are angry. Will Ahmad Zahid’s next few months be star-crossed?

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