Is Shahrizat's comeback what Umno needs now? Analysts say party should move forward with fresh faces

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 7 — Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil will not find it easy to lead Wanita Umno again if the rumour that she is keen to make a political comeback turns out to be true, political analysts told Malay Mail.

That’s because the Malay nationalist party needs fresh faces, and Shahrizat’s age could work against her.

Senior fellow at Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research Azmi Hassan said it is somewhat surprising that Shahrizat is returning to active politics, especially at this juncture when the party is in need of a new direction by young leaders.

“She was no doubt a good leader, maybe Wanita can benefit from her experiences, but at this particular juncture Umno needs to demonstrate that they want new faces and new ideas because this is very critical for those outside of Umno, whether or not they will support the party depends on which direction Umno goes — whether going backwards or going forward,” Azmi said.

Another reason that might have led to Shahrizat’s return could be the “old faces” that are vying for the vice-president post in the party election this coming March, he suggested.

“Maybe she sees an opportunity. But for Umno, they need some fresh faces and ideas, and I think she is aware of this, so it’s surprising that she wants to come back as Wanita chief when there are a lot of capable leaders from Puteri Umno who could transition to that post.

“But if you look at the vice-president candidates, there are many old faces making a comeback. So that could be a reason why Shahrizat is making a comeback because she sees that if the vice-president candidates who have offered themselves are old faces, why not her?” he said.

It was reported that nine party bigwigs are vying for the Umno vice-president position in the party’s election next month.

The nine expected to contest are Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin and Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid — who are incumbents — Datuk Seri Zambry Kadir, Datuk Seri Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, Datuk Seri Shamsul Anuar Nasarah, Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani and Datuk Seri Hasni Mohammad.

Sembrong MP Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and former Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin also wanted to run for the position of vice-president but they have since been suspended and sacked respectively.

Sociopolitical analyst Awang Azman Awang Pawi who is with the University of Malaya Centre for Democracy and Elections pointed out that Shahrizat’s era is considered over.

“But it isn’t that the party has run out of ideas. As a democratic party, it allows anyone to contest, and at the end of the day, this will be evaluated by the delegates.

“I also believe these are not signs that Umno wants to return to the old days. The existing women’s wing is already seen as strong and capable, especially under Datuk Seri Noraini Ahmad who is seen as modern, moderate and progressive,” the associate professor said.

But he also said that if Shahrizat wins the leadership election, then it will seem that the party is taking a step back.

“This shows that Umno’s ‘cleansing’ is not yet complete,” he said.

At this time, he said Shahrizat could just be testing the waters to determine how much support she still has if she decides to become active in politics again.

“So that is likely why there are talks of her returning, just to test the water and response of the current political landscape,” he said.

Weighing in, Universiti Sains Malaysia’s political science professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid said Shahrizat’s much talked about return is a reflection of a party short of both ideas and talent.

“It merely confirms what pessimistic commentators have been saying all along, that Umno is suffering from the ill effects of warlord politics, that legitimises and even sanctifies one’s holding on to a party position for as long as he’s able and willing to.

“It’s indicative of an Umno slowly consigning itself to the dustbin of history and Umno will be the butt of jokes to Malaysia’s younger generation by offering a veteran leader approaching 70 years of age as its answer to the likes of PKR’s Nurul Izzah and DAP’s Hannah Yeoh and Young Syefura Othman,” Ahmad Fauzi said.

He pointed to Nurul Izzah’s reputation as prime minister material among her supporters despite her recent controversial appointment as her father Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s adviser.

He stressed that her return would not help Umno in any way, and if there are Wanita division heads who still support Shahrizat, they are out of touch with politics.

It was reported that as many as 147 Wanita division chiefs nationwide are calling for Shahrizat to lead the party’s women’s wing as the former minister’s legacy and reputation left behind have persisted even after retiring from politics.

The wing chief for Kota Melaka division Datuk Haryaty Hamdzah was quoted as saying in a report by Utusan Malaysia that the collective decision was made during a meeting with Shahrizat herself most recently.