Muhyiddin ultimate trump card: Deregistering “party pooper” Umno

By Abdul Rashid Hasnol


RECENTLY, the DAP’s Socialist Youth (DAPSY) chief Howard Lee openly speculated that Umno would be deregistered by June. Whether the Pasir Pinji assemblyman spoke with inside knowledge or the statement was mere political rhetoric, is unknown.

But the talk of Umno’s deregistration has been making its rounds of late. In February, it was revealed that the party had a secret bank account used to receive funds from 1MDB. The use of slush funds contravenes the Societies Act and can be a basis for the party’s deregistration.

Even if the deregistration comes to pass, it would not be the first time Umno is struck off from the list of official political parties in Malaysia. In 1987, the then backbone of the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional, was deregistered following a bitter leadership tussle between Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

Subsequently, Dr Mahathir set up Umno Baru while Razaleigh formed the splinter Semangat 46, which a few years later, returned en bloc back to the Umno fold.

But 2021 is not 1987 and those optimistic that Umno can ride out the storm should the Registrar of Societies (ROS) deregister the party have misplaced confidence. For one, Umno is not as strong as 34 years ago when the deregistration took place.

It is now playing second fiddle to Bersatu, the party which Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin comes from. In fact, the Home Minister, who oversees the ROS, is Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin, the Bersatu secretary-general.

Secondly, with Umno’s internal polls postponed, its party president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is facing simmering discontent over his leadership. The recent “leaked” phone conversation between two individuals, with one resembling him, has further undermined his credibility. (Zahid has claimed that the four-minute audio clip was doctored.)

Parties like Bersatu are ready to poach renegade Umno MPs. Bersatu has everything to gain from Umno’s deregistration as the former seeks to cement its alpha status in Malaysia’s political landscape. Bersatu now has 31 MPs to Umno’s 38.

It’d be worse for Umno if it finds itself deregistered just before the next general election, with its candidates having no platforms to contest and may be forced to switch allegiance to Bersatu. As it is, there’s no love lost between Zahid and some of his top party critics like Tan Sri Annuar Musa, who is also the Ketereh MP.

The prospects of Umno’s deregistration are not as far-fetched as one would assume. The ROS is vested with wide powers and all it takes is the revelation of some phony members or technical discrepancies at the branch or divisional level for the regulator to wield the big stick. For a party with over three million members and thousands of branches, the ROS has its job cut out.

At this point, Umno’s deregistration is pure conjecture. The Home Ministry has repeatedly maintained that it would not allow politics to interfere with the jobs of bureaucrats, including those in the ROS.

But what is certain is that Muhyiddin and Bersatu will be the greatest benefactor from the move. Whether this will be Muhyiddin’s trump card in Bersatu’s high-stakes rivalry with Umno remains to be seen. If that happens, we might as well focus on how to prevent Bersatu from becoming another Umno, if it has not happened already. – April 10, 2021


Abdul Rashid Hasnol is a FocusM editorial contributor.

The views expressed here are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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