Umno is in the “New Malaysia” now where it is the opposition after a severe trouncing in the May 9 elections. The defeat saw Barisan Nasional, which Umno leads, lose to Pakatan Harapan after more than six decades of governing the country since Merdeka. The Umno elections on June 30 will see for the first time, three hats in the ring for the president’s post after years of no-contest that became part of the party’s culture of not rocking the boat.
There were, at first, views that former deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi should be president without contest, a suggestion immediately shot down by Umno Youth Wing. According to UMNO Youth Chief, Khairy Jamaluddin Umno needs to restore public confidence and regain its credibility and needed leadership that could navigate the unchartered waters of being without federal power. Nominations for the party’s national office-bearers started on June 1 and closes at 5pm today. The full list of contenders for the president, deputy president, three vice-presidents, wing heads and the supreme council will be announced later today. Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah confirmed that he will be challenging Ahmad Zahid Hamidi for the Umno presidency. The other candidate is Rahmar Azim Abdul Aziz, an entrepreneur and political blogger better known as Mat Umno.
Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, fondly known as Ku Li who is Gua Musang Umno division chief, said he was contesting after seeing Umno’s current predicament. “I made the decision in the interest of Umno as a national political party that should uphold racial unity and maintain harmony as the core principles of the nation. I want to ensure that Umno can be an effective Opposition. At the same time, I will ensure the interests of the party grassroots are protected,” pledged the party elder. Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s candidacy for Umno president sums up the party’s dilemma as it struggles to rebuild in post-GE14 Malaysia. Umno needs new blood and new ideas to break away from its legacy of corruption and cronyism associated with former president Najib Razak, which had led to the party’s defeat at the May 9 polls and the loss of federal power. But Razaleigh, its “change candidate”, is a leader from the past.
The 81-year-old Kelantan prince is a political veteran who had his day in the sun 23 years ago, when he led an opposition party called Semangat 46 that challenged Barisan Nasional in two elections and lost both times. Ku Li formed Semangat 46 after he failed to unseat Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Umno president in 1987. Semangat 46 contested in the 1990 and 1995 general elections, and was wiped out on its second outing. The party was disbanded and Razaleigh rejoined Umno, which was then led by his arch nemesis Tun Dr Mahathir. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi stressed that Umno cannot see another split like in 1987 when Tengku Razaleigh formed a splinter party Semangat 46 after losing in the Umno election. “This is Umno’s dilemma. It’s as if there is no real alternative (for a presidential candidate) for Umno to save itself. And that is sad,” said Hisommudin Bakar, of the think tank Ilham Centre.
“For many voters, Ku Li had disappeared from the political radar. I don’t think he is the best choice,” said Hisommudin. However, the Umno veterans club proposed that Ahmad Zahid Hamidi make way for Tengku Razaleigh and instead contest the deputy president position. Tengku Razaleigh’s supporters, however, believe he is the best the party has for now. He has the combination of a clean record, relative to leaders in Najib’s cabinet, and leadership experience. He himself said this when asked what he had to offer compared with Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. “Members are demanding change,” he said, when announcing his candidacy yesterday. A few days earlier at a dialogue session in Kuala Lumpur on June 12, Umno activists in their late 30s argued that Tengku Razaleigh was the best because he didn’t carry the baggage of Najib’s scandals.
“We need a president who is clean, who does not have all these issues that attract hatred from the public,” said Zulkifli, a Federal Territories Umno Youth member. A Selangor Umno Youth leader who was at Tengku Razaleigh’s press conference yesterday said a groundswell was building among grassroots members who want to kick out not just Ahmad Zahid Hamidi but every leader associated with Najib. Sources within Umno claimed that Tengku Razaleigh has the support of most of the party’s 26 divisions in Johor and a clutch of other divisions in the Federal Territories, Terengganu and Selangor. Mazlan Harun, who is former Petaling Jaya division chief, compared Razaleigh’s leadership pedigree to Zahid’s, with the former coming up the better. “He has served since the time of (first prime minister) Tunku Abdul Rahman to (third prime minister) Tun Hussein Onn. “Zahid’s experience only began during (fifth prime minister) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Najib,” said Mazlan who said he would help Tengku Razaleigh campaign.
“He is old but capable and I think that he can bring change,” said Mazlan. – June 17, 2018.