KUALA LUMPUR, August 15 — Umno’s heavy defeats in the six-state elections last weekend made it untenable for Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to remain as party leader, according to political analysts.
They argued that the Umno chairman would now have even less reason to cling to power, saying Zahid’s party should resign after his party’s disastrous performance in the 15th general election.
Umno was among the worst performers in Saturday’s elections in Kedah, Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, Penang and Terengganu, losing to PAS and Bersatu’s Perikatan Nasional in dozens of constituencies.
Although the unity alliance of Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Peace Nasional (BN) was able to protect Negeri Sembilan, Penang and Selangor from PN, it failed to prevent the rival coalition from gaining significant ground in the last two states.
Datuk Jayum Jawan, professor of political science at Malaysian Universiti Putra, said: “A leader must know when to leave when he fails to do what he is supposed to do.
“He took over while Umno was gone. The Umno people knew this and I think they gave Umno plenty of chances to do his bit to restore his former glory. But with his poor performance in the last six state elections, he has no excuse. Umno has a chance to regain its former glory. He needs a new captain to become a captain.”
Jayum said it was clear that Zahid lacked the vision or charisma needed to return Umno or – more importantly – win back the Malay community to the party that was once the champion of the community.
Jayum also acknowledged that the situation was not entirely Zahid’s fault as it was a product of the party’s chronic decline, saying this was evidenced by the most recent Umno delegates’ agreement that Zahid could not be contested for the presidency in the last party election.
“The rise of a mediocre captain must be shouldered by the many warlords who helped establish and enforce a no-objection for the top two posts, thereby getting Zahid to the top for free.
“The only right thing for Umno members is to ask an extraordinary general assembly to elect a new leader to save Umno, if it can be saved.”
Amid concerns that a leadership change in Umno could destabilize the national unity government, Jayum said it was a possibility, but more likely to keep the party in power as he consolidated that position as Zahid replaced him.
Syaza Shukri, assistant professor of political science at the International Islamic University Malaysia, said that the call for Zahid to step down as Umno president is fair, given that his predecessor, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, resigned after leading the party and BN. 2018 general elections.
Zahid said he stayed because of the “life buoy” PH gave him to form the national unity government.
Syaza said that Zahid should have used the second chance to reform Umno, but he didn’t. Instead, it took him to another disastrous election show last weekend.
“There isn’t much he can do other than what he’s already doing to court grassroots leaders. Now we see that the rejection of people – Malays and non-Malays – is actually from Zahid, not Umno.
“While it is true that there have been court cases between the parties, PN has successfully brought the attention of the judiciary to Zahid,” he said, adding that a transition in Umno may not destabilize the government if PH can reach an agreement with Zahid’s successor.
Prof Kartini Aboo Talib @ Khalid of Ethnic Studies Institute at Malaysia Universiti Kebangsaan (UKM) said that Zahid should be responsible for both the poor performance of Umno and contributing to PH’s loss of state seats in Selangor.
Election performance aside, he said, Zahid’s dozens of accusations were reason enough to call for his resignation.
Kartini said PH-BN’s losses in the state elections were a manifestation of voters’ opposition to the agreement between Zahid and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to form the national unity government after the 15th general election.
Anwar said that while he needed Zahid’s support to tip the Gabungan Parti Sarawak and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah coalitions in his favor, this is not a universally accepted arrangement, at least in Zahid’s own party.
The Umno base still felt deceived by Zahid’s insistence that he would not bring the party to work with Anwar or DAP in the PH before the general election, only to do so when the PN seemed to form the federal government.
“There’s a trust gap here,” he said.
The call for Zahid to step down as Umno chairman came from inside and outside the party after Umno won just 19 seats in Saturday’s six-state elections.
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