KUALA LUMPUR - Sixteen members of Umno on Friday (April 20) filed court papers to have Malaysia's biggest political party suspend its activities, for allegedly breaching the party's Constitution.
Their move followed comments by two former Malaysian cabinet ministers asking if the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) could take part in the May 9 general election, as the party had twice postponed its internal polls - way beyond a three-year limit imposed by its own constitution.
The issue is closely watched because the Registrar of Society (ROS) last month granted Umno a second extension to postpone its election. The ROS two weeks ago temporarily suspended opposition Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) for failing to abide by its constitution on a matter the registrar would not disclose.
PPBM is led by Tun Mahathir Mohamad, a former premier who is leading the opposition charge to oust Umno president and Prime Minister, Najib Razak, from power.
The group of 16 Umno members on Friday, represented by lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla, made three applications to the High Court, said a report in the Malay Mail Online (MMO) news site.
"We are of the opinion that the judicial review is needed because of Umno's failure to adhere to its own constitution," Mr Haniff told a news conference Kuala Lumpur Courts Complex.
He said the ROS "suddenly came out on March 5 saying it now allows Umno's bid to postpone party elections to next year, when it was last held five years ago."
Former culture minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim on Thursday (April 19) said the Malaysian courts, and not the ROS, should decide on this Umno constitutional issue.
"Umno can only go about their daily business once it gets a court declaration. If not, many members will question the legality of Umno," Malaysiakini quoted Mr Rais as saying on Thursday.
He reminded Umno members that the party was deregistered in 1988 during a leadership battle after some members asked the High Court to decide on an Umno constitutional matter regarding illegal party branches.
Umno, which traditionally holds its elections every three years, last held them in October 19, 2013.
It was first given leave last year by the ROS, to postpone its polls until Thursday, April 19, 2018.
The ROS last month told Umno that it could again postpone its polls, by one more year to April 19 next year.
Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, another former minister who has been taking up cudgels against the leadership of Prime Minister Najib Razak, Umno's president, said by law the party cannot contest in the May 9 polling as it has disregarded its own constitution.
Umno postponed its internal elections in the past few years as Datuk Seri Najib faced headwinds caused by the scandal surrounding state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, and later, as the party gears up for the general election.
The complaints by Mr Rais, 76, and Ms Rafidah, 74, raised eyebrows because the duo had stayed loyal to Umno during much of the 1MDB turmoil, but have in recent months been critical of Mr Najib's leadership.
Umno's secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor has said that he sees no problem with the extensions given to the party by the ROS. He quoted the Societies Act 1966 and residual power under Section 3A of the same Act, to say that the ROS had the power to grant these postponements.
He said there should be no doubts on Umno's status as a legitimate party, New Straits Times newspaper quoted him as saying on Wednesday (April 18).