CNA Explains: What’s next for the Malaysian politicians who were expelled or suspended from UMNO?
For former ministers including Khairy Jamaluddin and Hishammuddin Hussein, the political path ahead might be rocky, say analysts.
KUALA LUMPUR: The writing was on the wall. Last Thursday (Jan 26), United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that the party will undergo “mass cleansing” to get rid of “saboteurs”.
A day later, UMNO announced after its supreme council meeting that former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin and former entrepreneur development and cooperatives minister Noh Omar were expelled from the party.
Former defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein and ex-party information chief Shahril Hamdan were among a group of politicians suspended from the party for six years.
Following UMNO’s poor showing at the 15th General Election (GE15) last November, the party has been rocked by dissent.
While it is an important component of the unity government led by Mr Anwar Ibrahim - with Ahmad Zahid appointed as deputy prime minister - UMNO has faced challenges in regrouping as its different factions articulated their own visions for the way forward.
While some think that UMNO should respect the wishes of the voters and serve as an opposition party, others felt it should be in the unity government for purposes of political stability.
CNA looks back at the developments that led to the disciplinary actions and what’s next for those who have been ousted or sidelined.
WHY DISCIPLINARY ACTION WAS TAKEN
In a statement issued late last Friday, UMNO secretary-general Ahmad Maslan said Mr Khairy was among those who have been expelled for breaching party disciplinary rules during GE15.
“Among their wrongdoings are becoming independent candidates, candidates for parties other than Barisan Nasional (BN) and being involved in helping opponent parties during GE15,” Mr Ahmad had said.
UMNO supreme council member Puad Zarkashi claimed in a Facebook post on Jan 28 that Mr Khairy had been sacked for criticising the party and its president during GE15 campaigning.
Additionally, Mr Khairy had been a vocal opponent of a motion tabled during the recent party general assembly. The motion was to block UMNO’s top two posts - party president and deputy president - from being challenged at the party’s internal elections, which must be held by May.
Rumours of such a motion had swirled as some prominent party members came out to say they preferred for the posts to remain uncontested, citing the need to maintain party unity as it rebuilds following its dismal performance at GE15.
When a no-contest motion was first tabled by an UMNO delegate from Negeri Sembilan during the party’s general assembly, it was met with boos. But the motion was passed by the general assembly the next day in a majority vote, paving the way for Ahmad Zahid and his deputy Mohamad Hasan to serve at least another term.
Mr Khairy alleged in a TikTok video on the same day that some delegates’ seat tags at the convention hall were removed, to be replaced with those of "imported" delegates who would push through the motion.
As for Mr Hishammuddin, Mr Puad claimed that he was suspended because he was the main mover in getting several BN lawmakers to sign statutory declarations to back Perikatan Nasional (PN) chairman Muhyiddin Yassin to become prime minister.
He also claimed that Mr Noh Omar was sacked because he had sabotaged UMNO during the elections, with 16 reports lodged by party members to UMNO’s leadership.
Mr Noh resigned as the chief of UMNO’s Selangor chapter in November after saying that he no longer had confidence in Ahmad Zahid.
Mr Shahril had resigned as information chief in the immediate aftermath of GE15, urging Ahmad Zahid to take responsibility for the party’s defeat by stepping down.
In his Facebook post, Mr Puad said that the sackings hurt but were necessary. “If you love the party, make an appeal. If you don’t want to appeal, then wait for six years. Except those who have other options. Choose your option,” he said.
UMNO TOP LEADERS LEFT WITH NO CHOICE: ANALYSTS
Political analysts interviewed by CNA said that UMNO’s top leaders had to take decisive action in an attempt to heal the rifts in the party, by removing those who could threaten its agenda.
Political analyst Professor Azizuddin Mohd Sani of Universiti Utara Malaysia said there would have been further implications for the party if it did not take any action.
“They have ample time to heal the party. It was the best move for UMNO to strengthen the party, even though they look weak now. It was something that the leadership needed to do, whatever you want to say. Other parties have done the same thing,” Prof Azizuddin told CNA.
Associate Professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi, who is a research fellow at Universiti Malaya's (UM) Centre for Democracy and Elections said that Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) had in the past sacked Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Mr Mukhriz Mahathir, while Parti Islam Se-Malaysia also expelled those who criticised the party.
“It is the correct decision to cleanse the party if they want to move forward,” he said, adding that it is still a big challenge for the party to heal itself.
He said that the party could now look at giving more prominent roles to other individuals such as information chief Isham Jalil and vice-president Khaled Nordin, who are seen to be moderate and far thinking.
“Leaders come and go all the time, but the party will always be there,” he said.
In GE15, the BN coalition - led by UMNO - emerged a distant third by winning only 30 seats, behind Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) 81 seats and PN’s 74 seats. It was the worst showing ever by BN in the history of Malaysian politics.
PH, BN and other parties have formed a unity government while PN - comprising PAS and Bersatu - is in the opposition.
WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN SIDELINED?
Analysts believe that the path forward will be rocky for those who have been sidelined or ousted from UMNO, as there would be complications if they are planning a comeback via other political parties.
Assoc Prof Awang Azman of UM said that Mr Khairy might be able to find his footing in a multiracial party such as Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
“I doubt they (PKR) will accept him because there will be implications for the unity government,” he said.
Mr Anwar, who helms PKR, has said that the PH coalition will consider the views of its component party leaders before making any decision to accept Mr Khairy as a party member. “(It) is necessary to maintain the principles, peace and unity within the unity government (and so) we will have to give it a lot more consideration,” said the prime minister.
Assoc Prof Awang Azman said that Bersatu was another option that Mr Khairy could consider but its top leaders such as secretary-general Hamzah Zainuddin and deputy president Ahmad Faizal Azumu could feel threatened by the former health minister.
“Someone like Khairy would be seen as a rival and how far would he be accepted in the party? Would he be happy with the post of a committee member?,” he said.
On Monday, Mr Khairy told CNA that he will not appeal against his dismissal from UMNO and was contemplating a political comeback in Selangor during the upcoming state election.
“It's something that I'm considering, as I've made known to the public. I've left Negeri Sembilan, I’ve migrated to Selangor, although I came here at the 11th hour to Sungai Buloh, but I think that this is the political epicentre for Malaysia,” he said.
Mr Khairy was a three-term MP for Rembau, Negeri Sembilan before he was moved to contest in the urban constituency of Sungai Buloh in Selangor during GE15. Urban seats are generally considered PH strongholds. Mr Khairy eventually lost in a seven-cornered contest.
The former health minister, however, believed that the political market was saturated right now with quite a number of parties.
“So setting up a new party is an option. Joining an existing party is obviously an option. So I think I would like to take my time and see what makes more sense,” he said, adding that he would not rule out returning to UMNO one day.
Prof Azizuddin of Universiti Utara Malaysia said as compared with Mr Anwar, who was able to lead UMNO politicians out of the party when he was sacked back in 1998, both Mr Khairy and Mr Hishammuddin might not be able to engineer a large exodus.
“I doubt they will be able to pull off something like what Anwar did before and form a new party,” he said.
He believed that PH could accept Mr Khairy but would impose some conditions on him such as placing him under “probation” for a period of time.
For Mr Hishammuddin, who was once vice president of UMNO, his circumstances are more complicated as he has been suspended for six years, Prof Azizuddin noted.
This means that while Mr Hishammuddin can still be a member of the party, he will not be allowed to participate in the party’s elections.
If Mr Hishammuddin leaves UMNO, he will have to vacate the Sembrong seat he won under the party’s ticket and a by-election would be held to elect a new parliamentarian.
Prof Azizzudin said that while Bersatu is one option for Mr Hishammuddin, it would be best for him to appeal to UMNO to shorten his suspension, although he would need to show his commitment to the current leadership.
“In the past, many of those who have been suspended have made appeals to the party and had their suspensions reduced,” he noted.
Assoc Prof Awang Azman of UM said: “If he was a bigger person, he would apologise to the party and stay with them. He has to accept that he made the wrong political moves."
In response to his suspension, Mr Hishammuddin wrote in a tweet on Jan 28: “Their evil must not make us lose our good.”
On Tuesday, the Sembrong MP wrote in a Facebook post that UMNO has yet to inform him of the reason for his suspension.
As for Mr Noh, his best option would be to join PN, said Assoc Prof Azman Awang. During GE15, Mr Noh was not picked to defend the Tanjong Karang seat in Selangor which he had occupied since 1995.
“This is why he wanted to be sacked from the party. He can play himself as a victim and be considered a hero among his political base,” he said.
Prof Azizuddin said that in a party like Bersatu, especially those who formed the party from its inception, they would not be so keen on accepting UMNO figures for fear of being overtaken by the newcomers.
“Many of them feel disappointed because they have been overtaken by others who joined the party later. They wouldn’t want any disruptions to the party,” he said.