Analyst – Umno polls get heated up

THE next two weeks of campaigning for the top posts in Umno will be quite a heated affair, as the party is said to have recorded the most candidates in the party polls this time, both at the grassroots and national levels.

Nominations for Umno elections closed yesterday, and Umno delegates will vote on March 11.

“The official list of candidates will only be released by the party after the closing date,” said a party source.

Some big names have decided not to run for re-election.

One of them is the incumbent Umno vice-president and former prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who will forego the vice-presidency to compete for the Bera Umno Division chief post.

Others, like Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani, a member of the Supreme Council, have thrown their hats in the ring to contest for higher positions.

For the first time, eight big names are vying for the three vice-president positions, including ministers, former ministers, former chief ministers, and a chief minister.

Other than Johari, those vying for the vice-president posts are incumbents Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid and Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin, Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican, Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir, Datuk Seri Hasni Mohammad, Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail and Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said. However, Zambry has withdrawn today.

The Wanita Umno chief post is the only top position seeing a straight fight, whereas all the other positions, such as the supreme council and exco positions in all wings, will see more than two jumping into the ring.

Former Wanita Umno chief Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil will take on her successor, Datuk Seri Noraini Ahmad, who is defending her post.

Analysts say that despite the party’s worst performance in a general election in 2022, the record number of candidates proved that Umno is still a force to be reckoned with in the nation’s political landscape.

Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research senior fellow Azmi Hassan said “the crowd of candidates” in the party polls is due to the current three teams in Umno.

“Umno may be at rock bottom right now, but it is a crowded party poll. This is no surprise, as there are three groups.

“One is the group aligned with Umno President Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamid; another is anti-Zahid and wants to topple him. The third group is the one that claims neutrality.

“Except for the Wanita Chief post, all the other contested positions would have these three groups. The Zahid group wants to maintain the status quo, while the anti-Zahid group wants to change it.

“The neutral group says they are the best to be put in position to change Umno for the better,” said Azmi.

According to Universiti Teknologi Malaysia political analyst Dr Mazlan Ali, even though the party has the fewest parliamentary seats in its history and is no longer the “Big Brother Party” it once was, it is still a “kingmaker”.

He explained that as Umno holds the Malay votes in the current government, the party is still very much a dominant force, as it is still the biggest Malay political party in the country.

“Whoever needs to be the Federal Government at this point needs to play with Umno, as was obvious after the last general elections,” said Mazlan, who noted that those vying for the positions see a glimpse of a bright future in the party.

Universiti Sains Malaysia’s political analyst Prof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian also opined that former prime minister Ismail Sabri might have decided to forego the VP post and only go for the Bera Umno Division head post as a statement that he is more deputy president or president material.

“I also think Ismail Sabri should not contest as VP, as he is a former prime minister, and it would be awkward to go against others who were once in his Cabinet.

“I was also told that he was not keen.

“Perhaps he thinks he is more president or deputy president material, two posts that are not being contested this time around.

“It is also clear that those who are contesting are either with Zahid or not with him,” said Sivamurugan, referring to the fact that Ismail Sabri is not seen as pro-Zahid.

Umno is in the midst of its internal elections for the 191 divisions and 22,000 branches, including the divisions that were suspended.

The new office bearers of the party will be elected between Feb 1 and March 18, but the top two positions of president and deputy president will not be contested.

In May last year, Umno amended its constitution to allow party polls to be held within six months after the conclusion of the 15th General Election.

Umno had postponed its party elections for 18 months after the 2018–2021 term ended on June 30, 2021, which meant party polls for the 2021–2023 term should have been held before Dec 30 last year.

However, the elections were postponed. – The Star