Umno looks to deputy president to revive fortunes

Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan (left) and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (right) at a party meeting in Selangor last month.
Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan (left) and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (right) at a party meeting in Selangor last month.PHOTO: BERNAMA

Mohamad Hasan's clean image may help scandal-hit party

With Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi taking leave from his post, his deputy, Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan - a corporate man turned politician - now helms Malaysia's oldest party at its darkest hour. The move may just work.

Mr Mohamad, the former menteri besar of Negeri Sembilan, rose to become Umno's deputy president at the party polls in June. He has been widely touted by party leaders in recent months as more suited to lead compared with Zahid.

Zahid, 65, is seen as being an ineffectual leader seven months after its electoral defeat in May, and whose reputation is tainted by 46 court charges against him - eight on graft charges, 11 counts of criminal breach of trust and 27 for money laundering.

Before Umno's shock defeat in May, Mr Mohamad, 62, had been popular with party grassroots but was hardly seen as top leadership material. But now, his clean image may be just what Umno needs to distance itself from scandal-tainted leaders.

"He is not distracted by corruption charges or blamed for Barisan Nasional's defeat as he was a state leader, so he is definitely in a better position than Zahid to lead the party," said independent Malaysian risk analyst Adib Zalkapli.

Zahid's statement on Tuesday evening did not say how long he would allow Mr Mohamad to lead the party. He told reporters that he would return only when Mr Mohamad deems it appropriate.

"I hope all polemic against the leadership ends and I want grassroot leaders to focus on strengthening the party," he said in the statement.

 
 
 

He has been facing calls by several Umno leaders to quit after the party lost 11 federal lawmakers last week, adding to others who had left since May.

Umno won 54 parliamentary seats in the general election but had 37 left last week, with intense speculation of more defections if Zahid did not step down.

The party had also lost assemblymen and senators. These lawmakers either defected to parties within the ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan or became independent.

Pahang Menteri Besar Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail lauded Zahid's decision to take the "middle path" and hand over duties to his deputy. "Many of those who left the party blamed his leadership for failing to provide Umno with a clear direction for it to restore its strength," he said.

"Considering the crisis facing Umno, with its leaders leaving the party and talk of more going to do so, the decision by the president is seen as apt."

Unlike Zahid who had spent decades in politics, Mr Mohamad was seen as a successful corporate man until 2004 when he joined top-flight politics full time.

He cut his teeth in banking before rising to lead Cold Storage, and then becoming general manager of Mercedes-Benz dealer Cycle & Carriage, before quitting to be a full-time politician.

Across the country, Umno leaders rallied behind Mr Mohamad, who is seen as being more pragmatic and open to reform ideas.

Last week, he said in an interview with a local daily that Umno needed leaders with "principles".

"Money politics is the cause of Umno's downfall and despite this stark reality, it remains deeply embedded in the party's culture and practices," he was quoted as saying by New Straits Times.

Expressing disappointment that his former colleagues had left en masse, he said: "This is why we need to have principles in our struggles because without it, our fight and motivation to move forward is fragile and weak."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2018, with the headline 'Umno looks to deputy president to revive fortunes'. Print Edition | Subscribe