The end of Umno’s Team Wawasan era

Noor Azam Shairi

Anwar Ibrahim, the then leader of Umno’s Team Wawasan, was once touted as a future PM but has now ironically been superseded by Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who only contested in the 2004 general election, a decade after the team swept into power. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, August 21, 2021.

THE era of Umno’s “Team Wawasan” – the young men seen as heirs to Dr Mahathir Mohamad – ends with Ismail Sabri Yaakob becoming Malaysia’s ninth prime minister today.

The informal team’s name was inspired by Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Vision 2020, and they were once considered the future of Umno and Malaysian politics – emerging during the Umno party elections in 1993, the first after it was deregistered in 1988.

Anwar Ibrahim, the team leader, was once touted as a future prime minister but has now ironically been superseded by Ismail, who only contested in the 2004 general election, a decade after Team Wawasan swept into power.

Only two of the five Team Wawasan members – Najib Razak and Muhyiddin Yassin – went on to become prime ministers.

Two others, Muhammad Muhammad Taib and Rahim Thamby Chik, went on to become the Selangor menteri besar and the Malacca chief minister respectively. Both their political careers, however, came to an end after being embroiled in scandals.

Team Wawasan had a clean sweep in the 1993 Umno party elections, winning the deputy president’s post, all three vice president seats and the youth leader’s post. Only Rafidah Aziz stemmed the tide by keeping the Wanita Umno wing leader’s post.

Anwar won the Umno deputy president seat uncontested after its incumbent Ghafar Baba withdrew and subsequently resigned as deputy prime minister.

Ghafar’s withdrawal from the party and the government saw him dramatically fall off the corridors of power and become a nobody.

In 1993, Anwar rose to prominence as the party number two and was chosen to be the deputy prime minister after 11 years in Umno. Anwar, once a student activist, shocked his supporters by joining Umno as many thought he would join the Islamist party PAS.

Ten thousand days into his role as deputy prime minister, which he took over on December 1, 1993, he came close three times to becoming prime minister but failed each time.

In the 2008 and 2013 general elections, Anwar was the prime minister candidate but all the opposition pact managed to do was deny Barisan Nasional from winning a two-thirds majority.

Finally in 2018, the opposition bloc successfully broke Barisan Nasional’s (BN) 60-year hold on Malaysian politics, but at the time, Anwar was behind bars.

It was Dr Mahathir who steered Pakatan Harapan (PH) to the historic win and made a comeback as the prime minister with the understanding he was keeping the seat warm for Anwar.

Less than a week after PH’s win, Anwar was granted a royal pardon. He was then elected as the Port Dickson MP in a “forced” by-election held in October 2018. At the time, he insisted that he had no intention of joining the cabinet.

Anwar and his supporters had hoped for a peaceful transfer of power from Dr Mahathir but this was thwarted by the political turmoil in February 2021, which saw Muhyiddin, a member of Team Wawasan, rise to become prime minister.

Muhyiddin resigned last week after losing his slim majority in the Perikatan Nasional government, which was formed on March 1, 2020.

Another Team Wawasan member who rose to become prime minister after removing Abdullah Ahmad Badawi from power due to BN’s poor performance in the 2008 general election was Najib.

Abdullah had taken over the party and the running of the government from Dr Mahathir at the end of 2003 when the BN leadership excelled at the 2004 general election.

In 1996, Team Wawasan split after Muhyiddin failed to defend the Umno vice president’s post.

At the same time, in 1996, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi started climbing up the Umno hierarchy as the youth leader, sidelining Rahim and three other challengers including Annuar Musa and Syed Hamid Albar. Zahid won by a margin of 64 votes over his nearest challenger, Annuar.

Anwar remained deputy president and was uncontested in the party elections. Two years later, however, he was fired from the party and the government over allegations of sodomy and abuse of power.

When Team Wawasan first emerged, Ismail was still the youth leader for Umno’s Temerloh division.

Ismail, 61, is also the first prime minister to be born after independence.

“Umno is experiencing an era of separation,” said political lecturer Dr Mazlan All from Universiti Teknologi Mara.

“Umno’s leadership has entered a new phase where the younger generation will start leading the party.”

Mazlan said this new phase will be further strengthened when Umno conducts its party elections, which has been put on hold for 18 months until the end of 2022.

“Umno will undergo a transformation when the party elections take place. With Ismail as the prime minister, he will be seen as the right person to lead the party,” he said.

He predicts that Umno leaders who have been branded kleptocrats and those who are facing criminal charges will be asked to step down when the time comes.

“This is the leadership dynamic that will take place in Umno in the near future.”

Ismail will be sworn in as prime minister at 2.30pm at Istana Negara today. – August 21, 2021.

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