KUALA LUMPUR - Leaders of Malaysia’s ruling party Umno held talks late into the night on Monday (Aug 22), after a hastily convened meeting earlier in the day stirred speculation that it was intended to pressure Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob into calling snap polls and intervening in former premier Najib Razak’s criminal appeal.
As at press time, it remained unclear what the discussions centred on.
But Datuk Seri Ismail’s noticeable absence from the meeting called by party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi for 11am on Monday clearly indicated a rift, as did conflicting accounts of what the division leaders decided.
One of the party’s 191 division leaders, Datuk Seri Jamal Yunos, said that the morning meet in Kuala Lumpur, which lasted over two hours, saw 158 division leaders agree unanimously to call for early elections.
However, other media reports estimated only over 70 division leaders showed up for the meeting.
Umno secretary-general Ahmad Maslan said a message circulating on social media containing a resolution to push for elections was “fake”, adding to the confusion.
Zahid, who faces a raft of corruption charges, leads a faction that is pushing for an election to be held this year ahead of the September 2023 deadline.
Another faction is led by Umno vice-president Ismail – the first Malaysian premier who is not head of his party – who has been resisting such calls in order to bolster his position ahead of the polls.
Mr Jamal also denied that there was any discussion of Najib’s ongoing appeal at the Federal Court against conviction for graft involving SRC International.
Umno Youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki also said that the subject of Najib’s hearing was never raised during the meeting.
Najib faces 12 years in prison if he fails to overturn the conviction at the final appeal hearing, which is set to conclude this week.
But if Najib’s lawyers opt not to present fresh arguments at court – as they had indicated last week – the Federal Court could rule on his appeal as early as Tuesday.
Najib said on Sunday that he was feeling “alone” and “betrayed”, and last week admitted that he was “desperate” to change his legal strategy at the prospect of his conviction being upheld.
Local media had reported, citing sources, that there was a proposal at Monday’s meeting for Umno leaders to ask Mr Ismail to intervene in Najib’s court case and request an adjournment.
The proposal was rejected by the attendees, according to the reports.
The 11am meeting was adjourned at around 1.30pm to enable Zahid to return to court to face his own graft trial.
The meeting was supposed to resume at 5.30pm, but reports in the evening indicated that top Umno leaders – including Zahid and Najib – were instead making an attempt to meet Mr Ismail in the administrative capital Putrajaya.
Mr Ismail was seen in a meeting with several Umno leaders at 7.30pm at his Putrajaya residence, before he left at 9.11pm. However, Zahid was not present at the meeting.