KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 8 — Support for Umno among its vote bank is haemorrhaging, and the party needs to be mindful of its position as a bastion for the Malay community, and not become fixated on one individual, party insiders said.
Its Johor Youth chief Noor Azleen Ambrose, for example, said that Umno needs to use its position in the unity government to fix itself and become more appealing to the Malays by offering fresh perspectives, instead of battling over jailed former prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
“After all, the party needs to move and cannot be stuck to one individual, because the Malays out there are waiting for fresh offerings.
“Umno, by being part of the government, has no reason to go back again. Support is not just declining; it is a haemorrhage for the party.
“Don’t tell me Umno does not want to use its current clout in the government to offer new things for the Malays? We should look at the bigger picture,” he told Malay Mail.
Noor Azleen said that Umno’s hastily convened emergency meeting last Saturday did not address the question of whether the party should continue being a part of the unity government, after the Federal Territories Pardons Board’s recent decision to halve Najib’s 12-year prison sentence for the misappropriation of RM42 million from a former 1MDB subsidiary, SRC International Bhd.
Those aligned with the former Pekan MP had been advocating for him to be granted a full pardon.
It was also one of the reasons why Umno agreed to join hands with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to form the current government, after the 15th general election (GE15).
“Leaving the government is out of the question. It was never mentioned. The sentiment and the mood (at the meeting) were calm,” Noor Azleen told Malay Mail.
He said that the decision to pardon an individual is the prerogative of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, which no one can question, adding that Umno needs to move on to reclaim its lost ground by showing a fresh approach to prove its relevance, instead of placing the goal to free Najib at its core.
Nor Azleen added that while Najib has several avenues in his pursuit of freedom, including the “court of compassion”, which has already been utilised, in reference to the Pardons Board, Umno cannot afford to stray from its original agenda of fighting for the betterment of the Malay community.
Umno’s top leadership held a three-hour emergency meeting over the weekend to discuss the Pardons Board’s decision to grant the former prime minister only a partial pardon, and later issued a statement saying they accepted the ruling but will not stop the fight to free Najib. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
“Najib can use all avenues and the party can offer its support, but Umno cannot forget its real obligation, which is to fight for the Malays,” he said.
Umno’s top leadership held a three-hour emergency meeting over the weekend to discuss the Pardons Board’s decision to grant the former prime minister only a partial pardon, and later issued a statement saying they accepted the ruling but will not stop the fight to free Najib.
In a message to Malay Mail, Shah Alam Umno division chief, Datuk Azhari Shaari also confirmed that the supreme council meeting did not touch on the subject of leaving the unity government.
Azhari confirmed his attendance at the meeting and replied with a short “no”, when asked if there were any calls for Umno to leave the unity government.
“It was what the press statement issued by the secretary-general read, after the meeting,” he said in a short reply when asked to furnish details on the issues that were discussed.
“Damansara still supports the unity government,” Damansara Umno division chief Datuk Azli Saad said in a short message reply when contacted by Malay Mail.
Another Umno member, who requested anonymity, said that the meeting was “more of a cover for Zahid”, referring to Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, while also confirming that there was no talk of Umno leaving the government.
“Yes, truly, there was not. It was more to inform party leaders about what happened with regards to Najib’s pardon matter,” he said, adding that party members were shocked to learn about Najib’s 12-year jail sentence being reduced through the media, as opposed to getting first-hand information from Zahid.
“In this pardon issue, Zahid should have made more noise because the one who is behind bars is Najib, from whom Zahid took over to lead Umno. He is seen as a protégé, and when Umno was seen to have not made much noise over the matter, an urgent meeting was convened to make it look like something big was about to happen, when it was just to discuss Najib’s matter.
Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi speak during the party's 2023 general assembly at the World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur June 10, 2023. — Picture by Hari Anggara
“The issue about Najib’s jail sentence being shortened was not leaked from within the party. Why didn’t anyone know about this earlier? Everyone had to find out through the media and other avenues,” the long-time ally of Najib told Malay Mail.
He said that this was especially after Zahid had allegedly made Umno division chiefs sign a petition to have Najib be given a full pardon and released from jail.
“It would have been more appropriate for this meeting to occur before the Pardons Board’s decision was announced. By holding it now, it appears that Zahid is attempting to make a reactionary move, which may not be in the party’s best interest,” he lamented.
“Zahid has his own interests. He and Anwar are like blood brothers, truth be told, and we all know it. So at this stage, Umno looks very weak. Zahid looks like he is beholden to his ‘brother’, as he has his own case to mind,” he added.
Last month, the Malaysian Bar filed for a judicial review to challenge Zahid’s discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) of 47 corruption charges in the misuse of tens of millions of ringgit from charitable foundation Yayasan Akalbudi.
The Bar’s judicial review application was heard in the High Court on January 11, and during the hearing, the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) argued that the Bar has not produced any compelling prima facie evidence to back its assertions of irrationality in its bid for a judicial review of Ahmad Zahid’s DNAA.
In response, lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan who was acting for the Bar, said it intends to file an application under Section 84 of the Courts of Judicature Act to refer constitutional questions to the Federal Court concerning the prosecutor’s decision to apply for DNAA in Ahmad Zahid’s case.
Both the prosecution and Ahmad Zahid’s lawyers have voiced their intention to object to the reference bid.
The prosecution previously decided to discontinue the Yayasan Akalbudi trial, which resulted in the High Court granting Ahmad Zahid a DNAA for all 47 charges he faced.
Ahmad Zahid was accused of 12 counts of criminal breach of trust in relation to over RM31 million of his charitable organisation Yayasan Akalbudi’s funds, 27 counts of money laundering, and eight counts of bribery charges of over RM21.25 million in alleged bribes.
At that time, deputy public prosecutor Datuk Mohd Dusuki Mokhtar said further investigations on Ahmad Zahid’s case had to be carried out, following the representations from the accused to the AG to ask for all 47 charges to be reviewed.
Trial judge Datuk Collin Lawrence Sequerah said that the prosecution had “given cogent reasons” for seeking the DNAA.