UMNO’s Audacious Get-Out-of-Jail Gambit
‘We can keep ruling coalition in power for favors,’ corrupt party hints
The July 30 announcement by the United Malays National Organization that it would remain outside Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional alliance while continuing to support the alliance amounts to little more than a blackmail attempt to keep a half-dozen of its leaders out of jail, political sources in Kuala Lumpur say.
At stake is the continued freedom of UMNO officials and allies accused of corruption following the 2018 general election, which was won by the Pakatan Harapan coalition that has since been dumped from power by Muhyiddin’s alliance. One of them is former Prime Minister Najib Razak, now free on appeal from 12 years in prison stemming from his conviction on seven charges of varying degrees of corruption stemming from the collapse of the 1MDB investment fund.
UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who himself faces at least 87 charges of criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power, said UMNO would work to strengthen its alliance with Parti Islam se-Malaysia, the rural Islamist party whose head, Abdul Hadi Awang, has been credibly accused of taking RM90 million (US$21.09 million) in bribes from Najib in an effort to wreck the increasingly popular Pakatan Rakyat’s 2018 election chances by taking his party out of the at coalition prior to the polls.
UMNO isn’t leaving the Perikatan coalition to go it alone with PAS. The two parties, although they have remained in a loose alliance with Muhyiddin, never officially joined Perikatan. What Zahid is saying is in effect that while they will continue to support Muhyiddin as prime minister, they could pull out at any time, causing the government, which holds a shaky 113-111majority in parliament, to collapse.
The 67-year-old Najib faces at least two more corruption trials connected to 1MDB.
Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor faces three counts of corruption in complicity with her husband’s actions.
Others in the dock are Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, the former UMNO secretary-general…,…supreme council member Ahmad Maslan, Mohd Isa Ahmad Samad and Shahrir Abdul Samad, and Abdul Azeez Abdul Raman, the former chairman of Tabung Haji., the Muslim pilgrim’s fund.
“I read it as a shot across the bows after the Najib conviction,” said a Kuala Lumpur political analyst “Don’t forget there are five or six other Umno leaders in court over corruption, money laundering, etc. and other charges. They are telling Muhyiddin that they can cause his government to collapse at any time. Basically, they are blackmailing him to somehow get the charges against their leaders dropped or eased. That’s how I read it.”
Muhyiddin is under pressure to call snap elections sometime later this year attempt to solidify his position in power.
“I think in the coming election, it’s going to be all bets off. Bersatu is a sinking ship,” said one analyst. “I am being told Muhyiddin is welcome to jump back across to UMNO.”
Another said the coalition is likely to be gone by the end of the year. What happens then – which way the political situation will splinter – is a mystery.
“Both Bersatu and UMNO, which is divided, are not certain what they must do next, with UMNO maneuvering to emerge as the dominant power while the former is struggling to retain its political eminence as exemplified by the current composition of the cabinet,” said another longtime observer. “Whatever the outcome, the present discreet tussle between the two parties would be most significant in shaping the political map ahead.”