Umno chief Zahid holds mass party meeting to push PM Ismail for early polls

Zahid choked up and was holding back his tears when he thanked Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor and his children for attending the event. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/UMNO ONLINE

KUALA LUMPUR - Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Saturday (Aug 27) urged party members to push for the general election to be held as soon as possible and to call for a royal pardon for jailed former premier Najib Razak.

"We must be ready to support a petition campaign to pardon (Najib) when the time comes. We leave it to the wisdom of the king to assess and carry it out in future," Zahid told hundreds of Umno leaders and members gathered for a special briefing at its headquarters, four days after Najib began his 12-year prison sentence for graft linked to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal.

Zahid claimed that Najib is a victim of political persecution, and has never asked for his charges to be dropped.

Other speakers at the event were Najib's children Mohd Nizar Najib and Nooryana Najwa Najib. Najib's wife Rosmah Mansor was present as well.

Najib's two lawyers who represented him at the trial, Mr Shafee Abdullah and Mr Zaid Ibrahim, also spoke from the stage at the cavernous Umno meeting hall, repeating some of the arguments they had used to defend Najib.

The High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court, involving a total of nine judges, had concurred that Najib was guilty of charges brought against him, after RM42 million (S$13 million) of public funds were found in his private account.

Zahid, who is facing 47 graft charges in connection with his charity foundation, said he would be bringing up the party's call for Parliament to be dissolved soon at the supreme council meeting, which took place after the gathering.

Zahid, who like Najib is 69 years old, denied that he wanted to push for early polls because he was afraid of being convicted.

"I still believe that our judiciary system does not side with anyone," he said.

Zahid choked up when he thanked Najib's wife Rosmah and children for attending the event.

Reflecting the party's infighting, several Umno leaders, including Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is an Umno vice-president, were absent from the gathering. He was in his constituency in Pahang state to officiate an event.

Also missing from the stage at the World Trade Centre Kuala Lumpur, where the Umno headquarters is located, were Cabinet ministers in the Ismail administration - Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, Federal Territories Minister Shahidan Kassim and Communications and Multimedia Minister Annuar Musa.

Boos were heard when Zahid mentioned PM Ismail's name during his speech, as the crowd felt that the Prime Minister was delaying the party's calls to quickly disband Parliament.

Zahid has been pushing for early national polls for several months, while Datuk Seri Ismail said he wants to concentrate on reviving the economy and containing inflation.

Shouts of "bubar" (dissolve) were repeated throughout the meeting, as well as "Malu apa, bossku" (There's nothing to be ashamed of, my boss) the battle cry of Najib's supporters. Most of the attendees were dressed in red, one of the colours of Umno.

"You are all alone, daddy. He is now in his 70s. You should not be spending your days like this," said his daughter Nooryana Najwa tearfully.

A video of Najib was played during the briefing, showing him at past events, and meeting people, including former United States president Barack Obama.

PM Ismail attended the Saturday evening Umno supreme council meeting.

Umno supreme council member and Sabah Umno chief Bung Moktar said the meeting discussed strengthening political stability, improving the economy and preparations for the next general election.

"We only discussed our party's preparations, how to ensure our candidates are stronger," he told reporters.

Asked whether the date for the election was talked about, Datuk Seri Bung said that it was up to the prime minister.

Supreme council member Datuk Zahidi Zainul Abidin said the meeting centred on party solidarity. On whether the date of the general election was raised, he said that "it is near."

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the chairman of Umno's political foe Perikatan Nasional (PN), said the Umno top leadership is pressuring Mr Ismail for snap polls because it is getting desperate.

"We are ready to enter the ring and fight!" Mr Muhyiddin said at PN's convention on Saturday.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told Bloomberg that the jailing should end Najib's political career "for the foreseeable future", and that the Umno politician is unlikely to get a royal pardon soon, as he faces four more trials.

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