KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian opposition party Umno has sacked Datuk Lokman Adam for leaking an audio recording in which party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is allegedly heard discussing a plan to support Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Umno secretary-general Annuar Musa said an official expulsion letter stripping Mr Lokman of his supreme council post as well as party membership will be issued on Tuesday (Feb 11).
The leaked recording purportedly featured Ahmad Zahid saying that he wants his party to work with Tun Dr Mahathir's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), one of the four parties of the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition (PH).
"Those who sacked me also include those who are in favour of a backdoor government - where Umno will work with any of the ruling Pakatan Harapan parties to form a government, but not through a general election," Mr Lokman was quoted as saying by The Star.
He said that he had yet to receive any formal notice of his expulsion but that he had been removed from the Umno supreme council WhatsApp group and that other party members had informed him of the matter.
Umno ally Parti Islam SeMalaysia has already openly backed the 94-year-old Dr Mahathir, amid mounting speculation that PH's agreed succession plan for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to take over the reins from Dr Mahathir may not garner sufficient support in Parliament.
Mr Anwar heads Parti Keadilan Rakyat, which has the largest number of MPs in PH but is riven by infighting.
Mr Lokman is a loyalist of former prime minister Najib Razak, who stepped down as Umno president in 2018 after the party's election defeat and now faces dozens of graft charges linked to troubled state fund 1MDB.
Despite the criminal charges against him, Najib retains considerable influence within Umno. Any plan to join forces with Najib's nemesis, Dr Mahathir, as proposed by Ahmad Zahid, is expected to be strongly opposed by Najib's supporters such as Mr Lokman.
Ahmad Zahid, who himself faces 87 charges of graft and money-laundering, may see his position weakened from this episode.
Mr Lokman's sacking "will risk splitting the party and galvanise former president Najib's support base within the party," said Mr Amir Fareed Rahim, analyst at KRA Consultancy.
"Zahid has taken a slight hit from this episode in the eyes of the grassroots, who are confident of Umno's chances in the next general election, especially after the recent consecutive by-election victories," he said.
He added that it may also affect Ahmad Zahid's standing in the run-up to the party elections, expected to be held in 2021.