Selangor politician Muhammad Taib back in Umno fold

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also Umno president, shaking hands with former Selangor menteri besar Muhammad Muhammad Taib as he welcomes the latter back to the ruling party.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also Umno president, shaking hands with former Selangor menteri besar Muhammad Muhammad Taib as he welcomes the latter back to the ruling party.PHOTO: BERNAMA

One of Malaysia's most colourful politicians in the 1990s rejoined Umno yesterday after being with the opposition for four years, with Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib saying he has realised that "the struggles of the opposition parties are a waste".

Mr Muhammad, who is widely known as Mike Tyson due to his political boxing skills to get out of trouble, said he has had enough of the opposition.

The former teacher, 72, was the Menteri Besar of Selangor between 1986 and 1997 and a former Cabinet minister for a year until 2009.

He joined opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) in 2013, and Parti Keadilan Rakyat in 2015. His move shocked the ruling party as he was once Umno's vice-president and a political star.

Yesterday, Mr Muhammad played an old tune at Umno headquarters: "In the (opposition) meetings that I attended, there was no discussion about the Malay agenda. Therefore, I feel there is no other path for me other than Umno."

In his heyday, the lanky Mr Muhammad, who was chief minister of Malaysia's richest state, attracted a lot of attention and, at times, controversy.

The politician angered the Sultan of Selangor when it was found that he had secretly married the ruler's daughter in 1987 in Thailand. The late sultan later accepted his apologies.

In 1993, Mr Muhammad and two other top party leaders then - Mr Anwar Ibrahim and Mr Muhyiddin Yassin - controversially formed Vision Team to shake up the Umno internal elections and won.

In 1997, Mr Muhammad resigned after he was charged in Australia with making false currency declarations after millions of dollars were found in his suitcase as he was leaving the country. He was found not guilty, after saying he could not understand the declaration forms which were in English.

Yesterday, his return was announced by Prime Minister Najib Razak. Datuk Seri Najib had Malaysia on tenterhooks after he summoned top party leaders on Saturday to Kuala Lumpur for a "major announcement".

The meeting led to wild rumours about the general election being called, the defection of top Sabah opposition politician Shafie Apdal back to Umno, or that PAS is forming a formal alliance with the ruling party.

Said Mr Najib: "He realises that the struggles of the opposition parties, especially PKR, are a waste."

The Malaysian leader also said that Mr Muhammad's return was not about getting a top post.

Mr Muhammad was not the only top leader who had rejoined Umno, as former premier Mahathir Mohamad had U-turned twice.

The opposition sighed with relief as Mr Muhammad was not an influential figure.

"We wish Umno well for seeing the return of Muhammad Taib as such a huge event that they must call an urgent press conference that raised all kinds of speculation," said opposition Parti Amanah Negara youth chief Mohd Sany Hamzan.

Still, Mr Muhammad's defection could be useful for Umno ahead of the general election as he sat in many leadership meetings of PAS and PKR.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2017, with the headline 'Selangor politician Muhammad Taib back in Umno fold'. Print Edition | Subscribe