KUALA LUMPUR - Umno's annual general assembly on Sunday (March 28) endorsed its leadership's decision to part ways with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia at upcoming polls that are now further shrouded in uncertainty.
The final resolution of a dispute that has fractured Malaysia's largest party since forming government with the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition a year ago means at least three main blocs will vie for most of the 222 parliamentary wards at stake.
The premier has promised to dissolve Parliament once an emergency to tackle Covid-19 is lifted by August, but will now have to fend off not just Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim's Pakatan Harapan (PH), but also the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN).
"The delegates have given the mandate to the president and supreme council to withdraw support for the PN government... if there is no indication of an immediate election," Umno chief Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said when closing the meeting.
The move to sever ties with PN - which also includes Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) - has been criticised by those who want to keep all three main parties that represent the Malay majority in power together.
But Umno president Zahid accused detractors of undermining the party's efforts to regain dominance of Malaysian politics.
"Realising and understanding current politics, BN must be prepared to contest alone," he said in his policy speech. "Umno will not be influenced by the cluster of usurpers, to change the decision we have made. This cluster and their minions are still trying to damage the party. If you want to be a leader and member, abide by the party decision."
"If anyone on this stage," he added, referring to the party leadership, "or outside, contradicts the decision by the supreme council, I leave the delegates to take action against them".
The likes of sacked BN secretary general Annuar Musa - removed by Zahid in January - and former Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein question whether the break with Bersatu means Zahid's faction is moving towards an alliance with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, whose Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition includes hated foe Democratic Action Party (DAP).
Umno, PAS and Bersatu all accuse PH and especially the Chinese-dominated DAP of undermining Malay Muslim interests.
On Saturday night, Umno's supreme council suspended deputy Putrajaya division chief Tun Faisal Aziz, who is also press secretary to Federal Territories Minister Annuar, for criticising the party president.
But Zahid - who along with several top Umno leaders who support him are facing hundreds of graft charges - rejected the assertion despite Datuk Seri Anwar claiming a fortnight ago that preliminary talks had begun.
"I want to make our stance clear, which is no Bersatu, no Anwar, no DAP!" he said just before ending his opening address.
However, he raised the prospect of a "political reset" after the 15th general election (GE15), pointing to how BN was established in 1974 to enlarge Umno's ruling coalition after a setback at the 1969 election resulted in deadly race riots.
"This political reset is related to national stability. Today, instability is pushing us deeper into economic fiasco. Although no negotiation has taken place with any party yet... Umno is very open to do so after GE15. First, Umno must be dominant, to be relevant," he said.
Zahid also claimed there was a movement trying to overturn the decision to part ways with Bersatu, a party he accused of "dishonest political treachery... to destroy and replace Umno".
Instead, Umno must "choose the right sincere and honest partners in forming the next government," he said, while PAS counterpart Hadi Awang sat on stage as an invited guest.
Umno has been pressuring PAS to ditch PN and strengthen their own Muafakat Nasional (MN) alliance that was inked in 2019 to further Malay Muslim interests.