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Analysts: After ‘Bossku’ Najib’s court bid rejected, it’s now time for Zahid to step up as Umno’s top dog

Publish date: Sun, 02 Apr 2023, 07:50 AM

KUALA LUMPUR, April 1 — After Federal Court ruled that disgraced former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak will stay behind bars, political analysts have suggested that Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi would have big shoes to fill as the head of the party.

Without discounting Najib’s influence among the party’s grassroots, analysts said that Ahmad Zahid has a big responsibility to bring the Malay nationalist party back to its former glory following a dismal showing in the last general election.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah political analyst Lee Kuok Tiung told Malay Mail that Umno should not let Najib’s infamy tarnish its legacy, but instead look to the grassroots that have been the backbone of Malaysia’s oldest political party.

“Umno does not belong to Najib Razak alone. Umno members from the grassroots are the real strength of the oldest party in Malaysia.

“Zahid as the Umno skipper now has a great responsibility to steer the direction of Umno,” he said.

However, Lee still believed that somehow Najib still has a grip within Umno, being the son of a former prime minister himself — the late Tun Abdul Razak. He cited former Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin who was recently ousted from the party as an example of a victim.

“‘Bossku’ is still a force to be reckoned with. I second that based on today Umno’s line-up,” he said referring to Najib’s moniker that had once been popular with Malay rural voters.

“For sure ‘Bossku’ still has influence but to what extent and in what aspect may vary. I believe many people will still refer to him when they want to make a big important decision,” he added.

Earlier this month, Umno held an internal election which saw the party’s top two namely Ahmad Zahid and deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hassan maintaining their positions following a motion that was brought up and passed during the party’s general assembly.

Despite much resistance even among the party’s top leadership, Umno maintained the convention of excluding the party’s top two positions from being contested in the internal election.

Speaking on the possibility of internal rift within the party, assistant professor at International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Syaza Shukri believed that Ahmad Zahid is currently in a strong position to lead the party into a better trajectory.

Looking at Najib’s failed bid reactions, she said that there are those that are trying to paint the picture that the government interfered in the judicial process to maintain Zahid’s power within Umno.

“This is a perception that is political. I think Zahid is in a strong position to lead Umno. The problem is that Zahid’s style is old-school Umno based on patronage politics.

“Najib would have brought sympathy, without Najib I see a typical Umno fight based on promises and influence,” she said, in reference to the outcome of Umno’s internal election which saw Ahmad Zahid’s loyalists filling up the party’s top leadership posts.

Commenting on Umno’s significance in the unity government led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, deputy director of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Studies professor Kartini Aboo Talib @ Khalid said that the party may have lost its previous bite but it is still one of the main pillars in the current administration.

She further said that despite being in the government, Umno needs to rejuvenate to survive further running down the country’s political line and stop solely blaming Najib for the decline of the party’s popularity among the voters.

“Umno is weak but when it comes to a unity government Umno is essential. If Umno pulls their support, the unity government may be gone or no longer unify.

“So, they both need each other to retain power,” she said when contacted by Malay Mail, referring to Anwar and Zahid.

In a fractious last general election (GE15), Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) had collaborated with nemesis-turned-ally Pakatan Harapan (PH) to form the current federal government, which was joined by two other Borneo political coalitions and other parties.

After the government was formed, Anwar appointed Ahmad Zahid as the deputy prime minister, alongside five other full ministers and six deputy ministers from the veteran coalition.

Yesterday, the Federal Court in a 4-1 decision refused Najib’s bid for it to review its ruling last year upholding his conviction for misappropriating RM42 million from SRC International, cementing his 12-year sentence and RM210 million fine.

The majority decision by four judges on the panel rejected Najib’s challenge against his conviction and sentence in the SRC case, and effectively endorsed the August 2022 decision of the Federal Court panel chaired by Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat which had ordered Najib to begin serving his sentence.

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