Umno's long, hot summer

Umno's long, hot summer
Flavour of the month: Ahmad Zahid, seen here posing for a wefie with admirers in the Jempol Umno division, has drawn rapt receptions when officiating at party division AGMs.

There are undercurrents rippling through Umno but the mainstay of the party is with Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak with one Umno division after another pledging support for him and Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

It was already late afternoon when Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi arrived for the Kapar Umno division meeting.

As he stepped out of his car, he whispered to Kapar Umno chief Datuk Faizal Abdullah that he had yet to perform his asar prayers. Faizal, who had planned a rather long speech, quickly made a mental note to pare down his own speech so as to give his VIP guest more time at the rostrum.

Every day has been a long day for Ahmad Zahid since he became Deputy Prime Minister and Kapar in the Malay heartland of Selangor was his third annual general meeting (AGM) stop that day. But his megawatt smile had not dimmed and the way he worked the crowd, it was as though there was nowhere in the world he would rather be than in Kapar at that moment.

Ahmad Zahid is the type of politician who regards everyone as a friend. It may seem superficial but little things like this mean a lot to ordinary Umno members.

"His PR is first class. He shook hands with almost everyone, even those standing way back from the line. He just went through the crowd to shake their hands," said Faizal.

Faizal was super-thrilled. His division had invited the Home Minister but he was now playing host to the Deputy Prime Minister.

Ahmad Zahid, who has Javanese roots, peppered his speech with Javanese words and phrases after learning that 60 per cent of the delegates were of Javanese descent.

He kept things light but he also drove home the message of loyalty and solidarity, speaking of the years when he was forced to resign as Umno Youth chief and also of his detention under ISA after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's sacking. He reminded everyone that he remained loyal to Umno and did not sulk or rebel against Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's leadership.

It has been a long, hot summer in Umno or, as one of Faizal's friends put it, a perfect storm is blowing through Umno.

"The grassroots are confused and some were angry. They said they put the leaders up there to solve problems and not to cause headaches," said Faizal.

Opinion among Faizal's circle was divided immediately after Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was axed from the Cabinet.

"But many of them also said they would have done the same thing if they were the party president. Some of them even said they would not have waited this long to do it," said Faizal.

Party members in Selangor are more likely to understand the intricacies of the 1MDB issue better than those elsewhere. They are critical, yet, the situation in Selangor Umno has been quite well contained.

Part of the reason may also have to do with the fact that the sophisticated party membership do not appreciate the way Dr Mahathir is trying to impose his will on them again. Their thinking is that they, rather than Dr Mahathir, should decide whether Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak stays or goes.

In a normal year, the division meetings would revolve around issues like repairing mosques, building kampung roads and maksiat (vice) problems affecting the youth.

But Penang Umno chief Datuk Seri Zainal Abidin Osman said that national issues have taken centrestage this year.

The psychology of holding on to power is a little different among Penang Umno members who are overwhelmed by the domineering might of DAP. They see DAP as a Chinese chauvinist party just as DAP sees Umno as a racist Malay party.

"The fear is that because of all these national issues, DAP could be sitting in Putrajaya. That, we cannot accept," said Zainal Abidin who is also special advisor (northern corridor) to the Prime Minister.

Zainal Abidin singled out ministers Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan and Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob for their impact on Penang Umno. The two leaders have officiated at several AGMs where they spoke extensively on the 1MDB issue.

"In the weeks leading to the division meetings, some delegates told me they were unhappy, they wanted to speak out and criticise the leadership during the AGMs. I was quite worried because we have a saying about the Malays here - tak sayang mulut (shoot off one's mouth).

"But Rahman and Ismail helped a lot. They used simple language to explain everything and it defused the situation. Some of the delegates said they can now explain to their friends, they can sit in the coffeeshop and argue with people," said Zainal Abidin.

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