KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 18 — Political analysts polled believe Khairy Jamaluddin could still be a potent force within Umno despite Saturday’s party resolution that would have blocked his ambition to wrest either one of the top two posts in Umno, but what he plans to do next will likely be closely watched by factions that would prefer him silenced.
Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Sivamurugan Pandian suggested Khairy’s movement will now be more restricted and he could be ostracised further given his opinions about party president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. But Khairy could still collaborate with other senior leaders outside the president’s circle and act as a pressure group to keep Zahid on his toes.
“Khairy does not have a position within the government nor party. His movement is restricted and he knows he might be sidelined as he’s not in the president’s team,” he told Malay Mail.
“He may stay provided no [disciplinary] action is taken or he may opt to be sacked with more critical statements and leave and join a moderate party as he has his own followers. [Or] he could keep his momentum with continuous attacks on current leadership to show there is a check and balance even though he couldn’t contest.
“Those who are unhappy with the party decision might form their own team as a pressure group to voice their unhappiness within the party,” he added.
Questions were immediately raised about the former Umno Youth chief’s future in the grand old party after its annual general assembly voted to support a motion to prevent a challenge for the presidency and deputy presidency at May’s internal polls, a move that pundits believe would further isolate Khairy and the faction seeking to remove Zahid.
Khairy had hinted that he could vie for the top two posts as part of a push to rejuvenate Umno following its trouncing in the 15th general election, the party’s worst-ever electoral performance.
Umno president Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi speaks during 2022 Umno general assembly at WTC January 13, 2023. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
The former Rembau MP, who has held three ministerial posts but lost to a lesser-known opponent in the contest for Sungai Buloh, no longer holds any leadership role in Umno, but is seen as a leading voice of the faction that blames Umno’s dismal performance on the corruption scandals linked to Zahid.
Factions that support the no-contest resolution said the risk of irreparable division justifies the proposal at a time when Umno needs to heal and regroup, a view echoed by some analysts who saw the move as reasonable given the context. In the past, challenges for the top posts were often fractious and damaging to the party.
The anti-Zahid group, among them current vice president Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri and former vice president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein on the other hand believes Umno needs a fresh line of clean leaders to rejuvenate and reform.
Khairy could team up with the two to wrest all three vice-presidential posts and form a political counterweight to the president’s faction.
“Given the fact Umno went ahead with the resolutions, Khairy has two options if he wants to remain within Umno’s ranks. Make a play for the vice-president’s position in order to be within Umno’s central leadership,” according to Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, an associate at political risk consultancy Vriens and Partners.
“He could also opt to continue critiquing Umno from within, as a member and this runs the risk of disciplinary action that could be taken against him, depending on what he says.”
Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (centre) is seen during Umno's general assembly (PAU 2022) at World Trade Centre Kuala Lumpur January 14, 2023. — Picture by Hari Anggara
James Chin, the director of University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute, suggested that Khairy could mount a legal challenge against the no-contest resolution, echoing views by Ismail that blocking the polls violated the party’s constitution.
“Those who oppose Zahid have two options; they can always file a complaint with the RoS and also seek the court to force Umno to hold elections [for the top two posts] but these are high-risk strategies,” he said, referring to the Registrar of Societies.
“The other option is not to fight Zahid now but work against him internally during the upcoming state elections because if Zahid cannot claw back the Malay votes that were lost during the general elections, then Zahid would be in trouble.”
Six states under Perikatan Nasional (PN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH) will hold elections latest by August and September this year.
Pundits said the outcome of the polls in Selangor, Penang, Negri Sembilan, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu will be “extremely competitive” and could either preserve the current federal coalition government or give rise to new alliances, including within Umno.
During the Umno General Assembly, Umno delegates voted through a motion for the party’s presidency and deputy presidency to be uncontested during the internal election that must be held before May 19.
The motion was submitted by Negri Sembilan delegate Mohd Shukri Samsudin, and seconded by a Terengganu delegate, Marang Umno chief Datuk Nik Din Nik Wan Ku.