Umno facing undercurrents on GE15 timing

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Barely four months after returning to power, there are factions within Umno that want to dissolve Parliament and pave the way for a snap general election.

According to several independent sources, the fissures among competing factions manifested again during the most recent Umno Supreme Council meeting on Dec 8.

The battle lines are similar to earlier this year when Umno’s leadership was divided between keeping Bersatu’s Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister and those bent on removing him.

This time, said sources, those who previously wanted to keep Muhyiddin as prime minister want the current prime minister and Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob to serve the full term.

According to sources, tensions within Umno’s leadership had prompted a group of MPs, led by Pasir Salak MP and Umno supreme council member Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, to hold a press conference on Tuesday morning to declare their support for Ismail Sabri.

This group of MPs, while claiming to speak for the entire Backbenchers Club, said the Ismail Sabri administration ought to complete its term to ensure continuity of the government’s plans to revive the economy.

“We give our utmost confidence to the prime minister because he has proven a very good performance within his first 100 days as the prime minister.

“He (the prime minister), together with cabinet members from different ‘mazhab’ (political ideologies), have proven their mettle in handling the Covid-19 pandemic in this country, that the number of cases has gone down,” Tajuddin had said.

Sources from several independent groups within Umno provided varying accounts of what prompted the group of MPs to do so. However, they all corroborated claims that some within Umno are pressuring Ismail Sabri to call for an early general election.

“We want the election to be conducted early. This is not about changing the prime minister,” said a source close to the top Umno leadership.

A party Supreme Council member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the idea was coined during their meeting earlier this month.

The leader, however, played the matter down, saying it was just a suggestion.

“It was only an idea raised in the meeting. There was no discussion about it. There was no decision,” he said.

The 14th Parliament will expire naturally in June 2023. With 17 months to go, Ismail Sabri has plenty of time to prepare before seeking a fresh mandate.

Since losing the 2018 general election, Umno has consolidated power rapidly, reining back the prime minister’s position while being returned to government in Perak, Johor and most recently, in Malacca.

There are those within Umno who believe that the party now has the momentum to call for fresh elections to earn a clear mandate, rather than allow Ismail Sabri to rule with a slim majority that is dependent on a confidence-and-supply agreement with the opposition.

“Malaysia is facing a lot of problems, including with the economy. Our government is also not stable. Since Budget 2022 has been passed, why not call for elections?” asked a source who is close to Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

This source believes that those who oppose the snap election idea are those who want to wait out until Umno holds its leadership election late next year.

“There are those we call ‘political dinosaurs’. They are worried that their names would not be nominated again in the next election, like what happened in Malacca, where only two division leaders became candidates.

“So, they want to push Ismail Sabri to become party president. That’s why all of a sudden, the group held a press conference to show their support. These are also those in Umno who want to continue cooperation with Bersatu,” he claimed.

Calls for elections to be held soon are not new. Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan proposed it just a day after Umno won the Malacca election by a landslide.

Several other Umno sources who were not favourable to an early election claimed that the pro-snap polls faction was not considering party interest but their own.

“Why do you think they want to do the election early? See whose (court) cases are coming up,” one party leader told Malaysiakini.

“Under no other circumstances would party leaders be actively pressuring to shorten the stint of its own government, which is barely 100 days old.”

The High Court will decide on Jan 24 next year on whether to acquit or order Zahid to enter his defence on the charges of criminal breach of trust (CBT), graft and money laundering against him.

Zahid’s predecessor Najib Abdul Razak is also facing two ongoing criminal trials related to 1MDB.

Another source, who is not aligned to either faction, expressed his hope that both groups would not resort to an open split, like what was seen earlier this year.

“A party split will not serve anyone’s purpose. If both groups can come to an understanding to avoid an open split, that would be best.

“I don’t think we can go through another period of calling each other traitors and maintain credibility in the voters’ eyes,” the source said. – Malaysiakini