Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi’s hint that BN candidates may very well be chosen from outside the leadership structure, is a telling sign of the mayhem that is going on internally within UMNO. That is a clear indication that Najib’s grip on power may be on its way to disintegration beyond salvation.
Moreover, this could well be Zahid’s first canon in his play for Seri Perdana (Prime Minister’s Office), in response to recent developments and Najib’s increasing untenability as PM.
Despite the official narrative of calmness and stability peddled by UMNO leaders and spin doctors, all is not well in Najib and UMNO’s house of cards. One among the countless indications to support this well known hypothesis, is the overtly defensive knee jerk reaction by the PM’s press secretary in response of opposition MP Liew Chin Tong’s ‘too close for comfort’ revelations.
Much like how gum shields, boxing gloves, the boxing ring, and a referee are in place to minimise injury and damage to boxers, party divisional elections as a form of contestation for candidacy for public office were put in place to temper the foul play that is inevitable in UMNO contests.
Boxing- much like party internal elections if rules are even vaguely followed- is about exercising skill, tactic, strategy and stamina to outwit and triumph over one’s opponent; whereas a bare knuckle street fight, is about hurting and incapacitating one’s opponent- with no rules to prohibit the use of any form of weapons- by inflicting maximum damage in minimum time.
With the removal of this caveat of divisional head being the de facto candidate, what was previously an institutionalised contestation of established positions to temper high handed tactics and avert civil wars at all levels, is now a ‘gloves off’ ‘ no holds barred’ “bare knuckle street fight’.
UMNO’s internal contests – due to the high stakes involve- have a natural tendency to be much more in line with bare knuckle scraps even with restrictions and rules as the best of times; according to revelations now we are too familiar with, that funds like those from 1MDB conventionally goes to Division heads.
Removing the rules and limitations and allowing the candidate selection process to turn into a street fight, suggests that UMNO’s gaping cracks have truly been exposed. In anticipation of there being no consensus at the very top due to an unelectable leader unwilling to release the reins of power, Zahid is apparently leading the charge to declare civil war on Najib.
After all, there is a bucket load of discontent that has been brewing since 2015. On 8th of March that year, Najib summoned a closed door meeting of all UMNO division chiefs to explain the RM2.6 Billion issue. Only 160 out of 191 turned up.
In the first week of August the same year, through a Telegram Group chat of UMNO division cheifs, Only 154 (some first hand accounts claim it was as low as 144) out out 191 division heads endorsed the cabinet reshuffle that removed Muhyiddin from the DPMship the week before. Meaning there were 37 of these powerful warlords already at odds with him.
September, a group of 13 division chiefs broke their silence and openly called for Najib’s resignation over the credibility deficit he had created on UMNO as a result of 1MDB and 2.6billion.
The next month, in UMNO’s general assembly, not only did Najib have to face protests outside the venue of the meeting and internal criticism. For the first time in UMNO’s history, only Najib himself the president, was allowed to speak at the winding up-session, to rule out any surprises from potential diasenters within the party.
This means that even back then- even before the DOJ revelations of kleptacratic practices – there were major discontent within the party. There has since been a great deal and one too many USD 27million diamond pendant for them to shift allegiance over. The evidence of the division heads being the most volatile and angered layer of leadership in the party is overwhelming.
It could also be that the divisional leadership is also divided, along the lines of those who benefitted from Najib’s 1MDB spoils, and those who didn’t or did less so. This could have culminated in an internal revolt by those feeling hard done by. Those like Zahid Hamidi at the top, unwilling to risk fielding these renegade warlords and unable to remove them from their local divisional chairmanship, hence changing the goalposts.
What is abundantly clear, is that Najib’s grip on power is no longer as solid as it was thought, and those occupying divisional leadership are no longer on his side.
Whether it is Najib, or Zahid who are making a play to exclude some division heads, or it is their own revolt that compels their sidelining, the formerly indestructible and unsinkable megastructure that is UMNO, is apparently falling apart at the seams.