Malaysia's biggest political party is making a big departure from the norm at its annual general meeting two weeks from now, by barring its deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin from speaking at the joint opening of its three wings.
The decision to gag Tan Sri Muhyiddin, an unrepentant critic of Datuk Seri Najib Razak's leadership, was announced by Mr Najib after Umno held its Supreme Council meeting yesterday, with Mr Muhyiddin reportedly still abroad.
Mr Najib sacked Mr Muhyiddin from the deputy premier post in July, but the latter is still Umno deputy president, the leader who customarily speaks at the combined opening of the Youth, Women and Puteri (Young Women) wings.
Mr Muhyiddin has continued to raise difficult questions linked to troubled state investor 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and the alleged transfer of US$700 million (S$993 million) into the personal accounts of Mr Najib. Thus, party leaders led by Mr Najib yesterday dropped him from potentially bringing fresh criticisms of Mr Najib's leadership into Malaysia's most closely watched annual meeting.
"We want to ensure a good environment so the openings of the three wings will be officiated by the leaders of these wings," Mr Najib told reporters after the meeting.
"This is a suggestion from the respective wings. They made the suggestion that this is their wishes and the Supreme Council respects their wishes," he added.
There had been rampant speculation in the last few months that Mr Muhyiddin and one of the three Umno vice-presidents, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, would be axed or suspended from the party of 3.4 million members, for openly criticising the leadership.
The Supreme Council, Umno's top decision-making body, yesterday instead decided to sack a Women wing's chief from Perak, Datuk Hamidah Osman, due to "disciplinary issues". She had also been publicly critical of Mr Najib's leadership.
The annual general assembly will be held between Dec 8 and Dec 12 at the complex that houses the party headquarters at the Putra World Trade Centre.
Mr Shafie was reportedly absent for yesterday's meeting because he was performing the umrah mini haj in Mecca.
The day of the meeting itself had raised eyebrows because it was suddenly brought forward by three days from its usual Friday slot.
This had raised comments on political blogs and online media that Mr Najib did not want Mr Muhyiddin and Mr Shafie to attend the meeting and protesting against any decisions made.
On Monday, former premier Mahathir Mohamad - a fierce critic of Mr Najib - hinted that this year's Umno assembly will be dramatically different from previous years.
He claimed in his blog that only the president's speech, the one by Mr Najib, would be broadcast but the three days of debates by the delegates would be closed to the public.
"Somehow, for whatever reason, efforts are being made by Umno that debate on certain subject matters, especially 1MDB and the sum of RM2.6 billion in the personal account of Datuk Seri Najib, must not be raised.
"As the saying goes, courage because of truth, fear because of wrongdoings. Is it because of wrongdoings that there is so much fear for 1MDB and RM2.6 billion being discussed?" Tun Dr Mahathir said.
He claimed there have been efforts made to stop him from meeting Umno members and the public although he is not running for any office.