GE14 Roundup: Is Umno gone for good?

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on May 14, 2018 - May 20, 2018.
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EVEN if BN had managed to somehow cling on to federal power in the recently concluded 14th general election, Datuk Seri Najib Razak would have had to go, simply because the Umno he led fell in Johor — the birthplace of the political party.

So, with the federal administration and Johor slipping from its hands, not to mention the other states it lost, it is a no-brainer to say Najib must relinquish his Umno presidency.

Will Umno do a Badawi on him ? Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi saw the BN he led losing its two-thirds majority in parliament following the 2008 general election and losing five states, although it hung on to the federal government. Umno ousted him as party president.

Abdullah’s failure is nothing compared with the disaster Najib has led his party into this time. So, will Umno force him out?

Youth head Khairy Jamaluddin is calling for what he calls reforms. At the time of writing, at least one youth leader, from Kedah, had called for Najib’s resignation. Expect the calls to grow louder in the days to come.

The blame game has begun. Umno leader Datuk Puad Zarkashi, who was dropped from the GE14 slate, blamed Najib for the defeat, saying the Umno president was too soft in dealing with the party’s warlords. He also pointed an accusing finger at fellow Johor leaders Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin.

Why Umno lost is no longer the question. What the members and Puad are saying has been said by many long before GE14.

Hence, the big question is, will Najib quit?

Whether he goes voluntarily or is forced out, it means he will no longer be the opposition leader. Is he willing to be humbled, to be just an ordinary MP, after being prime minister for eight years?

Assuming he resigns, on his own accord or otherwise, who will take over? That’s an equally big question.

The logical choice must be Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi , the vice-president who carries out the duties of deputy president. He was, after all, No 2 in the Najib administration.

Will he step in?

But here’s the thing. When Abdullah relinquished the Umno presidency, BN still controlled the federal government .That meant the person taking over as Umno president would become prime minister. That was Najib.

But now, whoever takes over will not be rewarded with the plum job of PM.

So, will Zahid, Hishammuddin, Khairy, or any other leader for that matter, be willing to become Umno president and shoulder the mammoth task of rebuilding the party, and as the opposition? That’s  no easy feat.

Now, another big question is, can Umno recover from the GE14 disaster?

Political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian told The Edge deputy editor Tan Choe Choe that “it can if drastic changes are made, [with] older leaders making way for younger ones”.

We cannot say Umno has no hope — it still won a good number of seats. We have seen how the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party bounced back after a severe loss. So, it’s not impossible for Umno to recover if it can quickly find a remedy.

True. But its members are not the Japanese, who are known for their resilience and endurance.

I am not writing the party off. But I am, if I may, reminding the leaders and members alike that they have to recharge their semangat and rebuild their party without the things they were used to previously — the advantages, resources and perks of being the incumbent government.

And before they embark on their long journey to recovery, there’s another question of the state of confusion within the party’s ranks resulting from the Election Commission’s redelineation exercise.

According to a highly placed Umno insider, the redrawing of constituencies saw Umno divisions and branches being moved. That led to some leaders being shifted to other divisions and not having any position.

The insider said the party leadership was aware of the problem but had told members to first focus on GE14 before tackling the problem.

That included the restructuring of branches and divisions.

Perhaps. The Umno insider said there were already members lobbying to be protem heads at the new restructured divisions. Obviously, then, Umno did not think that it would lose the general election.

To say Umno is dead and buried would not be right, but the party has a mountain to climb. A very high mountain — and that is putting it conservatively.

And there’s another thing — talk that Umno is an illegal party is making the rounds again.

But that’s for another day.


Mohsin Abdullah is a contributing editor who has covered politics for more than four decades



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