KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's opposition party Umno is beset with infighting caused by the November meeting of its former vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein with a Pakatan Harapan (PH) leader that raised suspicions of a looming mass defection.
Datuk Seri Hishammuddin was slated to face Umno's disciplinary board on Boxing Day (Dec 26) for holding the meeting with PH's Cabinet minister Azmin Ali at the latter's house, reportedly bringing along with him 21 other Umno MPs for the clandestine dinner.
But the disciplinary board's meeting was last week dropped without explanation, causing the board's chief Mohamed Apandi Ali, a former attorney-general, to quit his post in anger.
Tan Sri Apandi said he will not be made a "lackey" in the party's political games, hinting that Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi interfered to stop the disciplinary board from meeting Mr Hishammuddin.
"I did not order the postponement, there is something wrong here," said Mr Apandi, was quoted by Malay Mail news site last Thursday. "I am not willing to be made a kuda tunggangan (lackey). My dignity is greater than the position."
Datuk Lokman Adam, a member of Umno's policymaking supreme council, jumped in to he is "very disappointed" with the postponement of the disciplinary board's meeting.
"To me Hishammuddin is a traitor to the party who should not be left untouched. There shouldn't be anyone who should be protecting Hishammuddin," said Mr Lokman, a close associate of former premier Najib Razak, in a video posted on his Facebook.
Mr Lokman accused party president Zahid and secretary-general Annuar Musa of trying the sweep the case under the carpet by pretending there was no truth in the planned mass defections led by Mr Hishammuddin.
Mr Lokman said he expects Mr Hishammuddin and other Umno MPs to jump to PH some time between January and March next year.
Basically, the infighting forms part of a larger picture where Umno, now a weakened opposition party after leading the government for 61 years until it lost in the 2018 General Election, is fighting to retain its lawmakers.
Umno won 54 parliamentary seats in the general election, but has lost 16 MPs - or 30 per cent - due to defections. Most of them ran to PH's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia led by former Umno president Mahathir Mohamad.
And meanwhile, Zahid's weak leadership and the rebound in popularity of former prime minister Najib are causing fresh headaches in Umno. Both men face a long list of criminal cases in separate courts, from corruption to abuse of power to money laundering.
Zahid is, meanwhile, pushing the party into a formal alliance with long-time nemesis Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) called Muafakat Nasional (National Consensus), which isn't supported by everyone in Umno.
There are also tensions in Umno between a faction led by Mr Hishammuddin who prefers to see Tun Dr Mahathir continuing on as prime minister, and another led by Zahid who wants to see PH MP Anwar Ibrahim take over as Malaysia's premier.
Umno secretary-general Tan Sri Annuar, responding to Mr Lokman's claim of interference in the disciplinary board, said this was untrue.
"It is untrue that there was interference in the process or proceedings of the disciplinary board,"Mr Annuar said in a statement last Saturday.
The mess doesn't end there.
Kelantan Umno Youth chief Noor Hariri Mohamed Noor and Johor Umno Youth chief Mohd Hairi Md Shah have called for Mr Lokman's sacking for openly attacking top party leaders.
Said Umno veteran leader Shahidan Kassim, as quoted by FreeMalaysiaToday news site on Tuesday: "Lokman must remember that Umno does not belong to his father. It belongs to all Malays. And if there are issues, everyone must follow the rules and regulations of the party."