Even with Najib behind bars, analysts believe Umno will still survive
KUALA LUMPUR, April 1 — Umno may likely strive to regain its strength with or without Datuk Seri Najib Razak, several political analysts have suggested after the former party president's prison sentence for corruption was upheld yesterday.
Senior fellow at Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research Azmi Hassan said the Federal Court’s decision on Najib's conviction would not affect Umno and the unity of its members, as shown by the party’s most recent internal election results.
“Najib’s influence is still there and we can see that the candidates, most of them who support Najib, also support Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in this case. So the results leaned positively towards Zahid which can be interpreted as a form of Najib’s influence.
“The infighting will be very minimal after this, not because of Najib being incarcerated but because of the results of Umno polls,” Azmi told Malay Mail when contacted.
The Federal Court in a 4-1 decision yesterday refused Najib’s bid for it to review its ruling last year upholding his conviction for misappropriating RM42 million from SRC International, cementing his 12-year sentence and RM210 million fine.
The majority decision by four judges on the panel rejected Najib’s challenge against his conviction and sentence in the SRC case, and effectively endorsed the August 2022 decision of the Federal Court panel chaired by Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat which had ordered Najib to begin serving his sentence.
He also suggested that Umno’s direction now will now be fully in party president Zahid’s control, as the majority of top posts are held by his supporters.
“Majority of the candidates with important positions are all from Zahid’s camp, and they support Zahid. So in this case, if Najib is incarcerated for quite some time, Zahid’s control of Umno will be more solid because the resentful voices in Umno have nearly been eliminated, Umno’s support for the unity government will be good.
“It will create a confidence level within Umno which will be transpired to the outside of Umno or votes. I see that it will be a positive fight for Umno. I see that Umno will have a positive fight and for the unity government as well, in the coming state elections,” Azmi said.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Datuk V. Sithambaram speaks to reporters at the Federal Court in Putrajaya March 31, 2023. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Offering his views on this, Universiti Malaysia Sabah political analyst Lee Kuok Tiung said Umno does not belong to Najib alone, and the party’s real strength is its grassroots members.
Whether or not there will be more infighting, Lee said the factions are already clearly visible.
“Today’s Umno was seen to no longer have the advantage or aura that other Malay parties do not have. Umno has lost its grip as a Malay party leading a multiracial political alliance.
“It all stems from the attitude of some leaders in the past who were arrogant and played the racial and religious card. More infighting is something that is difficult to avoid but requires firm action,” Lee said when contacted.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's National Institute of Ethnic Studies deputy director professor Kartini Aboo Talib @ Khalid, offering her input said Umno has evolved and may no longer depend on Tun Razak's past glory — referring to Najib's late father who was also a party president.
“Organically the political structure, interests, and coalitions have changed tremendously. It's becoming more complex than before.
"Umno is weak but when it comes to a unity government Umno is essential. If Umno pulls their support, the unity government may be gone or no longer unify. So, they (unity government) both need each other to retain power,” Kartini said when contacted.
However, she said Umno is limited and may be at a disadvantage to go against PN in the Malay majority seats.
"Except for Melaka, the rest is at peace, and as many predict that Umno is at the stage of decaying in organisational life, the cycle of life needs to be rejuvenated to survive further.
"Party transformation is necessary and the cause of the decaying should not be blamed on Najib alone,” she said.
On July 28, 2020, Justice Datuk Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali found Najib guilty of all seven charges — three for criminal breach of trust, three for money-laundering, and one for abuse of power — at the High Court.
Mohd Nazlan, who is now a Court of Appeal judge, then sentenced Najib to 12 years in prison and fined him RM210 million in default five years imprisonment.
His decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal on December 8, 2021.