PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is still the party's leader despite having delegated his duties to his deputy, and will remain as the parliamentary opposition leader, Umno officials said on Thursday (Dec 20).
Ahmad Zahid on Tuesday (Dec 18) said he would step aside but made no mention as to how long Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan would carry out his duties.
The question now is how long the Umno No. 2 will be in charge of the party, as Ahmad Zahid has not resigned.
"The matter will be among the main topics at a party supreme council meeting that will be held tomorrow (Friday)," said Umno Youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki.
"We will discuss Datuk Seri Zahid's decision to go on leave, and what the focus should be for Umno following the decision," Datuk Asyraf Wajdi told The Star when met after attending the party management committee meeting at the Umno headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
Ahmad Zahid was elected Umno president at the party election in June. But an exodus of Umno elected representatives and party members after the May 9 general election has cast doubt on his leadership.
Party secretary-general Annuar Musa and information chief Shamsul Anuar Nasarah confirmed that Ahmad Zahid was still the president.
"He did not resign his position as party president.
"He is on leave, which means he no longer makes decisions or gets involved in the decision-making process of the party leadership," said Dr Asyraf Wajdi, adding Ahmad Zahid did not specify how long he would be on leave.
Barisan Nasional whip Ismail Sabri Yaakob said Ahmad Zahid would remain as opposition leader in the Dewan Rakyat.
"No change at this point as it's still too early to decide, with the Dewan Rakyat only meeting again in March next year.
"The position of opposition leader is also something that needs to be discussed with other opposition parties and not just among Barisan," said Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri, who is an Umno vice-president.
Among the opposition, Barisan presently has the most number of seats at 39, with Umno holding 37, followed by one each by the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).
The other major opposition party in the Dewan Rakyat is PAS, which has 18 seats in the 222-seat House.
Mr Ismail Sabri said Ahmad Zahid's decision to step aside was unexpected.
"My take on this situation is that he knew it would be a hassle to hold an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) to vote against him.
"That's why he made this sacrifice to step aside and let the deputy president run the show," he said.
Article 9.12 of the Umno Constitution states that members of the supreme council, which includes the president, can be sacked with the support of two-thirds of delegates at an EGM.
Umno sources said calls for Ahmad Zahid to go grew louder following the spate of recent resignations from the party.
Six Umno MPs - Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin (Larut), Datuk Rosol Wahid (Hulu Terengganu), Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad (Mersing), Datuk Shabudin Yahaya (Tasik Gelugor), Datuk Mohamad Fasiah Mohd Fakeh (Sabak Bernam) and Datuk Seri Ikmal Hisham Abdul Aziz (Tanah Merah) - announced their resignation last Friday.
A few days earlier, Sabah Umno lost nine of its 10 assemblymen, five of its six MPs and 22 of its 25 division chiefs.
"We could no longer avoid talking about the issue. People were leaving Umno.
"Whether you like it or not, the president is one of the reasons why this is happening," said a division chief.
It is understood that one of Umno's three vice-presidents had sent a letter to Ahmad Zahid on Monday listing reasons why the president should resign.
Sources said that while the letter was not strongly worded, the message that the leader wanted to convey to Ahmad Zahid was crystal clear.