KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 30 — Umno leaders suspended this week are unlikely to join other political parties, according to analysts who said the move could unsettle fledging alliances and potentially test the newly-enforced anti-hopping law.
For Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, a former Umno vice-president who was among those given a six-year suspension, defecting would automatically disqualify him as the member of parliament for Sembrong, something Umno’s top leaders may have accounted for when choosing to suspend the grandchild of the party’s founder instead of expelling him.
File picture shows Shahril Hamdan speaking to Malay Mail during an interview at Menara Dato Onn in Kuala Lumpur April 12, 2022. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Former Umno Youth information chief Shahril Hamdan Suffian could also be stuck with Umno because he is not seen to have with major influence and entrenched support in the party.
His possible departure, according to Azmi Hassan, a senior fellow at the Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research (NASR), would consequently have little bearing to Umno’s standing and would more likely hurt his nascent political career.
“Hishammuddin has no other choice and I think that’s the reason why the MKT (Umno supreme council) just suspended him because if they had eliminated (his membership) Hishammuddin would have been free to join other parties without losing his seat,” the analyst said.
“This has not been challenged yet, if a lawmaker is terminated from a party what would happen to his seat. So, Hishammuddin has no choice but to remain in Umno if he wants to remain as MP… he is in a big dilemma.
“As for Shahril, not having any position in the party or a non-MP, he is stuck in Umno. Shahril does not have a strong grassroot support. He can quit Umno but if he wants to prolong his political career but Shahril cannot persuade other members to join him is quite slim.”
Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan announced on Friday the sacking of former Selangor Umno chief Tan Sri Noh Omar and former Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin as party members, citing alleged breaches of party discipline and its constitution.
Umno also imposed a six-year suspension of party rights on several others, among them Hishammuddin and Shahril. Other notable names that were handed the suspension were Datuk Maulizan Bujang and Datuk Seri Mohd Salim Sharif.
Analysts saw the sacking and suspension, made ahead of internal polls due in May, as a broader attempt to remove any potential threat to Umno’s current line of leaders, specifically president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who is still on trial for corruption and has been blamed for the party’s dismal showing in the 15th general election.
Umno only won 25 federal seats, the Malay nationalist’s worst electoral performance since its founding over six decades ago.
So far, Khairy, Hishammuddin, Shahril and other leaders have not made their next moves public, apart from questioning the legality of the disciplinary action meted out against them, arguing that it did not follow due process.
There is speculation that they could either challenge the decision in court or opt to defect. Where they go may depend on who the leaders are. Someone like Noh could prefer Perikatan Nasional while Khairy and Shahril are seen as the more likely to choose Pakatan Harapan because of their perceived similarities ideologically.
But since Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who is the PH chairman, is reliant on Umno and Zahid’s support to remain in power, the analysts expressed doubt that his coalition would be prepared to open its doors to Khairy.
“PH would be wary of accepting them, given their relationship with Umno at the federal level. Their exit ironically puts Zahid in a stronger position for now within Umno, and that it in turn strengthens Anwar,” said Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, senior analyst at risk consultancy Vriens and Partner.
The best move at the moment, according to Shazwan, would be for the out-of-favour Umno leaders to wait out the suspension and expand their allies within the party.
Datuk Mohamad Abu Bakar, a professor at Universiti Malaya’s literature and social science faculty, echoed the view.
“Under the present circumstances, the dynamics within PH and PN have already created instability in the respective parties. Their presence would create further divisions and dissatisfaction,” he said.
“The best option is for these political outcasts to keep low-key, and let the dust settle. But that is easier said than done. Politicians do not have patience when presented with opportunities.”
The PH-Umno federal alliance is set to face its first major test in six state elections that must take place latest by the third quarter of this year, as they face a galvanised rivals in PN now dominating the northern states.
Analysts have attributed the so-called “green wave” that had helped PN sweep most federal seats in Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu on the Malay conservative voters’ continued rejection of Umno because of its association with corruption and scandals. The green wave was coined to reflect PAS’ party colour.
The ongoing purge within Umno is also set to entrench the perception about the party’s intolerance towards reform-minded leaders and worsen internal division, they said.