KUALA LUMPUR - An Umno leader who was recently removed from the party's top decision-making collective has gone public with allegations of a plot to remove Umno chief Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and also of Umno MPs' backing for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to become prime minister, as the fault lines within Malaysia's longest ruling party deepen.
Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, the ambassador-designate to Indonesia, told reporters on Monday (June 27) that Zahid should step down as Umno president, claiming that a move to remove him had existed as far back as May 2020.
He was speaking less than a week after he was removed from the Supreme Council for not toeing the party line.
Mr Tajuddin, an MP for Pasir Salak ward, said that a majority of Umno divisions had written a memorandum asking Zahid to step down in May 2020, but the move did not materialise as Umno deputy chief Mohamad Hasan did not pass it to Zahid.
Mr Tajuddin said Datuk Seri Mohamad and former premier Najib Razak - both seen as close allies of Zahid in the party - had attended meetings on the move to remove Zahid. "We held a discussion at my residence regarding this memorandum," he added.
Mr Tajuddin's revelations could further create rifts in the party, which is already divided into two camps.
One camp led by Zahid has been pushing for snap polls in the belief that the Umno-led Barisan Nasional will return to power. Another camp led by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the third-highest ranking leader in the party, has been wanting to hold the polls next year after riding out a period of surging inflation.
A general election must be held by September 2023. Malaysia's Constitution leaves it to the Prime Minister to advise the King to dissolve Parliament and pave the way for elections within 60 days.
Critics have said that Zahid's camp, which includes Najib, is pushing for snap polls in hopes that it could influence the outcome of their legal troubles. Zahid is facing multiple corruption charges while Najib has been convicted in a corruption trial related to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad and faces a final appeal at the Federal Court this August.
However, Mr Tajuddin's revelation pointed to divisions even within Zahid's camp, with his allies allegedly involved in the talks to remove him as president.
Mr Tajuddin, who is seen to be allied to Mr Ismail's camp, also claimed that Zahid had led a group of Umno MPs to sign statutory declaration in support of Datuk Seri Anwar when the latter made a bid to become prime minister in late 2020. Mr Tajuddin said he was among those who had signed the statutory declaration at the request of Zahid.
"I am a living witness. I signed the statutory declaration out of respect for the president," he said.
Mr Anwar failed to become prime minister in October 2020 as he could not convince the King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, that he had the support of the majority of MPs.
Zahid had publicly denied backing Mr Anwar's premiership bid.
Mr Tajuddin was also critical of Zahid's leadership of the party, saying that he was more focused on his own ambitions to become prime minister instead of the party's interests.
He called for Umno's elections, which are already overdue, to be held as soon as possible so that Mr Ismail - the first prime minister who is not a party chief - can replace Zahid as Umno president.
Umno last month amended its Constitution so that a party election can be held only six months after a general election, which ostensibly secures Zahid's position as president regardless of when an election is called.
As president, Zahid has the final say on the candidacies of those contesting in the elections.
Mr Tajuddin said he was prepared to defend his seat as an independent or even under the ticket of Islamist party Parti Islam SeMalaysia should Umno not field him.