KUALA LUMPUR • Umno's new acting president Mohamad Hasan said yesterday that the party's lawmakers feel more comfortable with the new leadership under acting deputy president Ismail Sabri Yaacob and himself, and that there will not be any more defections.
Datuk Seri Mohamad, 62, replaced Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who stepped aside on Tuesday amid calls by several party leaders for him to do so over his ineffectual leadership that led to 11 MPs and nine assemblymen resigning last week.
Zahid, 65, is still president of the Malay nationalist party, but it is unclear how long he would remain in the post, as the party tries to rebuild after the shock electoral defeat in May.
Mr Mohamad spoke to the media after Umno's highest policymaking body, the Supreme Council, met yesterday to confirm the two new appointments and chart the way forward for the opposition party.
"Based on our conversations and discussions with some of them, these lawmakers seem more calm now," he said after chairing the Supreme Council meeting for the first time.
"They are satisfied with the current situation, and other top party leaders and I myself will make sure that all of our MPs are comfortable with the new leadership," he added, as quoted by The Star online news site.
Umno had 54 federal MPs after the May general election, but has lost 17 of them in the last seven months, leaving it with 37 seats in Parliament.
There was speculation that more MPs would quit, should Zahid continue as president.
Zahid took over as Umno president days after the May polls, which saw then Prime Minister Najib Razak ousted for leading Umno-led Barisan Nasional to its first electoral defeat.
But Zahid, who was formerly Malaysia's deputy prime minister, was seen as ineffectual in shaping Umno as an opposition party.
He chose to bring the party closer to long-time political nemesis Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), and last month surprised many people by calling for the two parties to merge. Embarrassingly, PAS ignored the call and instead asked Umno lawmakers and members to join the Islamist party.
Zahid is facing 46 charges in court, including those of money laundering, graft and criminal breach of trust.
Mr Mohamad, a successful corporate chieftain before becoming the Menteri Besar of Negeri Sembilan in 2005, is popular with the party grassroots but was hardly seen as top leadership material till recently.
Now, his clean image may be just what Umno - with a claimed membership of more than three million - needs to distance itself from its scandal-tainted leaders.
Widely called Tok Mat - a shortened version of his name - Mr Mohamad cut his teeth in banking before leading Cold Storage and then becoming general manager of Mercedes-Benz dealer Cycle & Carriage.
He said yesterday that at the Supreme Council meeting, the leaders discussed new strategies to win the next general election, which is five years away.
"One method we are contemplating is restructuring Umno's operations, given that the party is too large. We decided to analyse how best to do the restructuring, which will be done by a committee of Umno vice-presidents," he said, as quoted by the MalayMail.com news site.
Datuk Seri Ismail, 58, the acting deputy president, is the most senior of three vice-presidents. He was formerly minister of rural and regional development.
In announcing the appointment of the duo on Wednesday, Umno secretary-general Annuar Musa said: "The priority for Umno now is to... focus on the agenda to strengthen the party."
Apart from low morale after the shocking May defeat and recent defections, Umno is facing a major challenge from two of the four parties in the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition. Both Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and Parti Amanah Negara have said they are willing to accept defectors from Umno. Three MPs have already joined PPBM.