Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has ended his leave as Umno president and has returned to lead the party again.
Ahmad Zahid, who was elected Umno president in the party elections last year, said he was back as Umno president after having taken leave from the post since December.
“Today is exactly one year after I was elected, not appointed, by Umno delegates from 191 divisions throughout the country, it is very significant and important to me.
“Therefore, today June 30, 2019, I would like to announce that I have ended my leave as Umno president.
“This means beginning today I will resume my duty as president of Umno Malaysia,” he said at the Bagan Datuk parliamentary constituency Aidilfitri celebration.
He went on garden leave reportedly to stem the tide of Umno representatives leaving the party.
Zahid went on leave last year amid pressure for him to step aside.
His opponents from within Umno had criticised him for what they claimed was a lack of direction.
He finally relented, and on Dec 18 announced that his deputy Mohamad Hasan would take over as the new acting president.
Earlier, former Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, who is a close ally of Mohamad, had said that Zahid should first seek the Umno supreme council’s opinion before announcing his return.
“Morally, it should be discussed by the Umno supreme council. Zahid was on leave and the supreme council carries out his duties so it would be unfair if the supreme council is not consulted.
“To say that it is solely Zahid’s decision, I would disagree. In the last few months, including the three by-election wins we achieved, they were all done under Tok Mat (Mohamad),” he was quoted as saying.
Yesterday, former Umno president Najib Abdul Razak had said it was up to Zahid to decide whether he should make a comeback.
Both Najib and Zahid are facing graft charges.
Under Mohamad, a proposal was made to expel Umno members convicted of graft and who have exhausted all appeals.
However, the proposal was shot down with strong objection from the likes of Umno supreme council member Lokman Noor Adam, a Najib loyalist.
In an immediate response, Sabah Umno chief Bung Moktar Radin hailed Zahid’s return.
“Zahid’s announcement to end his leave is a good move, in line with the mandate given to him as president. As a leader and party member, we should respect it.
“Sabah Umno is confident that the party’s mission and mobilisation will be intensified with this decision. Let us strengthen the party together,” he said in a statement.
Other Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders say there is nothing surprising about Zahid’s return to active duty following six months of garden leave which he said had been to keep the party united.
MIC president M Vigneswaran said Zahid would have given thought to his decision and that he was “coming back after doing what he needed to do”.
“He wanted to sort out a few things which are personal to him,” he added. “It’s good in a sense because Umno is moving well within BN as well as with PAS.”
Vigneswaran said Mohamad had always maintained that he was only doing the work of the president, not holding the post.
“They have been very clear on that from day one.”
Adding that it had been Zahid’s decision to go on garden leave, he said there was not necessarily a “good time” to go or return.
He acknowledged the laundry list of charges against Zahid but said the Umno president had not been convicted of any of the offences.
“In my personal opinion, he has very strong grassroots support,” he added. “He also has the support of former prime minister Najib Razak.”
MCA vice-president Ti Lian Ker agreed that there was nothing surprising about Zahid’s decision to resume his duties as Umno president, especially given the growing political cooperation between Umno and PAS.
He said the people were by and large tired as the economy was faltering and political discontent was on the rise.
He also noted what he called a growing political divide along racial lines.
“The next general election will show a clear and distinct divide along racial lines, irrespective of who the party leaders are.
“With the new political ecosystem of PAS and Umno gaining ground and momentum, it is not surprising that Zahid has decided to resume his duties as Umno president,” he told FMT.
On what Zahid’s return might mean for BN, Ti said: “It’s party over personality.