PETALING JAYA: The results of party elections held in March may have suggested that Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has a firm grip on the party, but three months later, questions abound over how long he can hold on.
Umno’s four-day annual general assembly ends today, the first since the Barisan Nasional (BN) lynchpin purged its ranks of “elements that could hinder the party’s direction”, especially given that the Supreme Council is dominated by those aligned to Zahid.
However, the current general assembly does not appear to reflect this, with party sources saying the grassroots’ patience with Zahid is running thin.
“Many are frustrated with the situation surrounding ‘Bossku’,” one grassroots leader told FMT, referring to the popular nickname given to former prime minister Najib Razak.
“They feel the government has not done enough to help him.”
The leader, who declined to be named, said the general sentiment within Umno was that Najib had been denied a fair trial in the SRC International case, which ended with his conviction and jailing.
Yesterday, party delegates in the 2,500-capacity Dewan Merdeka chanted “Bebas Bossku” and “Hidup Bossku” as Zahid was wrapping up his opening speech. Earlier, many held up posters with the message “Justice for Najib Razak” as Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who attended as a guest, entered the building.
Also seen at the assembly were posters described as “provocative” accusing Zahid as well as law and institutional reform minister Azalina Othman Said of breaking “promises” made to the party over the Najib issue.
“It’s not just about Najib. Many on the ground believe he is saying the wrong things and doesn’t have a clear strategy. Take for example the demand by Umno Youth chief Dr Akmal Saleh for DAP to apologise for the nasty things its leaders had said over the years,” the source said.
“Rightly or wrongly, that is the grassroots’ sentiments. They want DAP to apologise but Zahid has downplayed the need for it.”
Meanwhile, a separate source claimed that even when Zahid dropped in for Umno Youth’s debates, several among the wing’s delegates ignored a longstanding party tradition of standing up to welcome him.
“Even the response to Zahid’s speech yesterday was lukewarm – until he spoke about Najib. The speech itself had too much praise for the prime minister and did not address key political issues the party will face in the upcoming state elections,” said the Umno Youth leader who declined to be named.
The source said the concern was that while Zahid may control the leadership, he may not command the grassroots enough to turn the party’s fortunes around following its humbling in the last general election where it won only 26 seats.