Dennis Ignatius: Najib-Zahid combo could drag Anwar down

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UMNO seems to think it can hold the unity government hostage.

Umno supreme council member Nur Jazlan Mohamed recently blamed the DAP for UMNO’s continuing lack of Malay support. Another supreme council member Puad Zarkashi meanwhile, claimed that the DAP was the reason why Mahathir’s government collapsed after only 22 months in power.

It is so typical of UMNO to blame others for their own failures and mistakes. But people can’t be fooled forever. Over time, people have come to see UMNO for what it really is – an increasingly corrupt, incompetent and abusive party that is more concerned with personal ambition and self-enrichment than anything else.

Unsurprisingly, UMNO has been steadily losing ground. In the 2008 elections it lost its two-thirds majority for the first time. In 2013, it lost the popular vote for the first time. In2018, it lost power for the first time. By 2022, it was reduced to a minor party with only 26 seats out of 222 seats in parliament.

This is not because of the DAP but because UMNO refused to see the writing on the wall and change. They were so confident that they could bully and hoodwink the people indefinitely by hiding behind race and religion. The 1MDB scandal was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

The unity government has helped give UMNO a new lease of life, a unique opportunity to reform and rebuild itself. They should be grateful but clearly, they are not.

Under Zahid’s leadership, there has been no effort at reform; his sole focus is simply on saving himself from going to jail. To strengthen his grip on the party, he has undemocratically stifled challenges to his leadership, evicted all his opponents, promoted his cronies and brought back tainted former leaders.

It should be clear by now that UMNO under Zahid has not changed; it’s the same old UMNO playing the same old games and clinging to the same old ways – crony appointments, excusing corruption and attacking the judiciary when it doesn’t get its way. Almost everything UMNO does these days is out of sync with the Prime Minister’s agenda.

But UMNO is confident that it can get away with anything because Malaysians are so afraid that if it leaves the unity government, Perikatan Nasional will return to power. UMNO, therefore, seems to think it can hold the unity government hostage. They will keep pushing the boundaries until Anwar finds the political will to say enough is enough.

In the meantime, blaming the DAP for UMNO’s failure to win back Malay support is convenient. But people are not so stupid as to believe Puad Zarkashi’s claim that the DAP was the reason why Mahathir’s government collapsed.

They know that the Sheraton Move was perpetrated by a group of power-hungry Malay politicians (including Zahid Hamidi) who refused to accept the outcome of GE14. The so-called Malay unity government that followed plunged the country into unprecedented political and economic chaos from which we are only now recovering.

The DAP has, of course, made a lot of mistakes but there’s no denying that this time around, the DAP has gone out of its way to remain unobtrusive and low-key; too low-key and too submissive for my liking but that’s another story.

Although it is the second largest party in parliament with 40 seats, the DAP has willingly accepted a much lesser political role in the unity government in the hope that this will provide Anwar more room to manoeuvre. It is a huge sacrifice for any political party to make.

UMNO, for one, would never act with such magnanimity or make such a huge sacrifice for the good of the nation. And yet, they now have the temerity to blame the DAP for their inability to win back Malay support.

Instead of using the many key cabinet positions (including DPM) which Anwar has given UMNO to win back the respect and trust of the people, they spend their time making crony appointments and undermining the justice system to save their own corrupt leaders.

Puad Zarkashi also claimed that those who are opposed to Najib’s pardon are afraid that UMNO will become stronger under a “Najib-Zahid combo”. That is pure horse manure. The Najib-Zahid combo has been around since 2015; they have done badly at both the last elections because the Malays themselves have rejected them.

The real danger is not that the Najib-Zahid combo will make a comeback but that they will drag Anwar and the unity government down with them. – Dennis Ignatius