UMNO’s party elections next year will determine the legitimacy of the federal government after the Malay party had lost badly in the recent general election (GE), analysts and party leaders said.
The legitimacy will be determined by Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s challengers who will look to seize the president’s post to revive Umno.
The pressure on Zahid has already been voiced by party leaders such as Youth exco Bastien Onn who wants the president to step down due to his graft charges which was one of the reasons why voters rejected Umno.
He told The Malaysian Insight, the rejection was clearly shown in the GE when opponents campaigned that a vote for BN meant supporting a corrupt leader from Umno.
“As a failed leader, he should step down, he needs to acknowledge BN’s failure. His performance was very bad, the people’s signal was very clear.”
“The one vote campaign for BN is a vote for Zahid to become prime minister was a success,” he said.
He said during the campaign, Zahid should have given the assurance that he would not be the prime minister candidate, but that did not happen.
“He should have stood up and said, ‘I promise not to be prime minister, vote for BN for stability and prosperity’, but he didn’t do it.
“As the leader, he should have known that voter sentiment was very bad. The issue of corruption is the biggest problem we are facing now, the will of the people is very clear on this matter.”
Zahid is facing 47 charges of criminal breach of trust, corruption and money laundering involving Akalbudi Foundation funds in the High Court.
In addition, his strategy to drop many party rebels from contesting in the election also contributed to BN’s defeat, said the Segamat Umno Youth leader.
He added that the rejection of Zahid was similar to what former president Najib Razak faced.
Zahid, who was elected as Umno president after BN lost in GE14, led the party to its worst ever election defeat.
Bastien said all of Zahid’s decisions had caused the party to be rejected by voters.
“Not only did the people reject it, the party leaders felt that all of his decisions were wrong, especially replacing candidates who were against him with others. They all lost.”
“We are not rejecting him because of personal factors but it was like when people rejected Najib Razak. We can’t expect different results with the same approach.”
Alor Gajah parliamentary seat candidate Shahril Hamdan who resigned as Umno’s information chief insisted that Zahid be held responsible for the party’s defeat.
Johor Menteri Besar Onn Hafiz also made the same call to Zahid, and said that the GE results showed that the Malays had rejected Umno.
Political pundits on the other hand said Zahid will face strong opposition from party rebels in the party polls.
Universiti Malaya’s Awang Azman Awang Pawi said Zahid will face strong opposition from those who are in the Ismail Sabri Yaakob camp.
“The closest challenger is Hishammuddin,” said Awang Azman, referring to Sembrong Member of Parliament, Hishammuddin Hussein.
He expected the competition to be clean, involving many challengers with their own list of candidates for other positions.
“Let the president’s position be contested by people who are interested, win or lose, Zahid has to face it in a gentlemanly manner,” he said.
“That is up to the grassroots members, not a group of individuals who are inclined to any side,” Awang Azman told The Malaysian Insight.”
Mazlan Ali, from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia said Zahid has enough time to prepare for the Umno election.
“He will face a situation where he will be challenged, of course in this six month period he will make preparations.”
“In my opinion, we cannot say that he will be eliminated from Umno because he has strong grassroots support,” he told The Malaysian Insight.
He added that the Umno election will also provide the opportunity to see the extent of the strength of grassroots members who support each camp in the Malay party.
“It seems that there is a lot of criticism on social media against Zahid, but we don’t know the situation among the grassroots.”
“It must be remembered that Zahid also has supporters, we see many Umno leaders defending him. We cannot take him lightly, his way of politics is smart.”
“Otherwise, he won’t be able to stay on as the president under this current political situation,” Mazlan said.
He added that the demand for Zahid to resign was not from Umno as a whole, but from the few who opposed him.
“For sure he will be challenged (at election time), although it is not that easy to topple him. In the next six months a lot will happen,” he said.
Mazlan said any person that want to oppose Zahid needs to have the support of Umno’s grassroots.
“Umno’s election system takes into account the votes of grassroot members, it is very difficult for any leader to dominate party elections unless there is strong grassroots support.”
“Umno’s election system makes it very difficult to buy votes, maybe Zahid’s reasons after this (his actions) can be accepted by Umno people, who will definitely be ready to make their sentiments heard during the party election.
“Actually, does (Zahid’s opponents) control the grassroots, if it is only open criticism, nothing can be done,” he said.