KUALA LUMPUR — The shock announcement that Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has returned as Umno president is unlikely to be a boon to the opposition party that is struggling to get back to its feet, several political analysts have said.
The analysts polled warned that with Zahid back in charge, despite his many criminal charges still playing out in court, Umno’s move towards a more progressive direction under Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, or Tok Mat, may be reversed, and even lead to a worse rift within the party.
Political analyst Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia said Zahid would have a difficult time balancing between spending his time in the courts and trying to introduce new dynamics, if any, to the party.
“It all depends on what Zahid intends to do or introduce to the party. However, this will be difficult seeing that he has to contend with the charges laid against him,” the professor told Malay Mail.
Zahid is currently facing a whopping 87 criminal charges, surpassing former Sabah chief minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman as the Barisan Nasional leader with the most charges at the moment.
Last week, he was hit with seven counts of receiving bribes totalling S$4.24 million (RM12.91 million) and was additionally charged with receiving bribes of S$10.47 million, RM3.13 million, €15,000 and US$15,000 from a company contracted to operate Malaysia’s overseas visa system and a one-stop centre in China while he was home minister.
“While the charges were against Zahid, with him returning to the office of the president, Umno’s political opponents will likely use this against them,” he added.
Sivamurugan also said that in contrast, Mohamad is seen by some party members as the more suitable person to lead the party after instilling a sense of stability over the past few months.
“This was proven in the last three by-elections in Semenyih, Rantau and Cameron Highlands. However, the predicament now is that Mohamad cannot lead the party as only the acting president,” he said, stating further that party members must give him the proper mandate for him to lead the party as its president.
Furthermore, Law Minister Datuk Liew Vui Keong announced yesterday that the Attorney General’s Chambers has maintained its decision of “no further action” in its investigation against Mohamad over the RM10 million money transfer he made to London.
Similarly, Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun has noted Mohamad’s contribution towards Umno, also he did no discount that Mohamad may return as acting president should Zahid fail to claw his way out of his legal cases.
“Over the last half a year, Tok Mat has turned out to be quite a competent leader for Umno, as he without much fanfare steadily steered Umno through a period of uncertainty, what with many allegations of corruption and also occasional defection.
“So Tok Mat is likely to have his political star shine again perhaps not so long in the future as Zahid is slapped with more and more charges,” he said.
He also predicted that Zahid’s return could see relatively progressive force within the party such as Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin, also seen as Mohamad’s close ally, to eventually leave the party or even create a new political one.
“I think the progressive elements, Khairy and all, are likely to eventually leave Umno and perhaps form a new political grouping, together with the disappointing progressive elements from Pakatan Harapan.
“This may usher in the so-called third force in Malaysian politics,” he said.
Following Zahid’s announcement, Khairy had insisted that Zahid should first seek the Umno supreme council’s opinion before announcing his return. He was among those who urged Zahid to step down after an exodus of Umno members last year.
But just yesterday, Umno announced five new names in its supreme council right after Zahid’s return, including some believed to be the Bagan Datoh MP’s loyalist, such as Batu Pahat Umno chief Datuk Mohd Puad Zarkashi.
However, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Kartini Aboo Talib said Mohamad is unlikely to just take a back seat, and would be a valuable asset to Zahid should they work in tandem.
“His influence and down-to-earth personality will boost Zahid’s and Umno’s strategy in rallying a campaign to save the party.
“As a senior member and elected president by Umno’s members, Zahid’s return coupled with Tok Mat as his deputy will assist in regaining the confidence the party needs,” she said.
Zahid has been on leave since December last year, and said he was returning to lead the party to commemorate the first anniversary since he was appointed president.