IF UMNO, the dominant partner of Barisan Nasional (BN), had been a strong party, it would have won the majority of parliamentary seats in the 15th General Election (GE15).However, it fared poorly compared to its rivals, Bersatu and PAS, in Perikatan Nasional (PN). The loss of Malay support compelled the party to reach an agreement with Pakatan Harapan (PH) to form the unity government. I think UMNO needs more PH support than the reverse. The fact that UMNO could form a pact with others to form the unity government was significant. If UMNO had joined the PN in forming the government, the party would have been swallowed up by the extremist forces in the PN. This was something known to the leaders in Umno, particularly its embattled president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. It is well known that Zahid’s corruption charges were the reason UMNO lost badly in the GE15 despite performing well in the previous state elections in Melaka and Johor. Right now, UMNO needs PH more than the latter needs the former. However, UMNO with 30 parliamentary seats is no pushover. It still has considerable bargaining power in the unity government. Sabah UMNO might have fumbled in the failed coup attempt against the chief minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor but the main party’s inclusion in the federal government seems pretty intact. A reasonably strong UMNO is a plus point for PH in the unity government. Whether UMNO can shore up Malay support for PH in the coming state elections remains to be seen. But it is better to have UMNO on the side of PH than not have it all. The recent decision in the UMNO assembly not to call for contests against the president and deputy president might have had unanimous support. However, there were those who advocated for the competitions.
Zahid might have emerged unscathed temporarily, but he seems to be the albatross around the neck of UMNO and, to some extent, PH or the unity government.UMNO cannot be revitalised without first cleaning up its corrupt image. Unfortunately, Zahid appears to be the most tainted leader in UMNO.
With no contest for the top two positions in UMNO, an immediate political crisis could have been avoided for the unity government.Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s headache might have temporarily evaporated. But the real challenge for PH and UMNO is securing Malay support in the coming state elections. Whether UMNO can dent the green wave by relying on ethnic nationalism remains to be established. — Jan 15, 2023
Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is the state assemblyperson for Perai. He is also deputy chief minister II of Penang.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Main photo credit: Astro Awani