KUALA LUMPUR: United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is set to serve at least another term after its General Assembly passed a motion to leave the party’s top two posts unchallenged at the next internal election, which must be held by May.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday (Jan 14) after the four-day convention at the World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Ahmad Zahid said he believes the motion – tabled on Friday – was “fully in line” with clauses in the party constitution.
The motion had polarised debate during the party convention. Some delegates supported it in the name of party unity, while others felt that the roles of president and deputy president should be open to challenge after UMNO faltered during recent national polls.
There was also a hint of controversy as former UMNO youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, a vocal opponent of the motion and potential challenger for party president, claimed on Saturday that phantom delegates were “imported” to “bulldoze” the motion into approval.
Ahmad Zahid denied that any improper acts took place before the motion was passed, highlighting that delegates needed to display their pass before being allowed to enter the main Merdeka hall where the motion was being debated.
“After the event, together with Dato Hafarizam, (we decided that) everything was in line with articles and provisions in the party constitution,” he said, referring to UMNO legal advisor Mohd Hafarizam Harun.
Whether UMNO’s top two posts will be contested at its next leadership polls has been a hot topic at this year’s convention.
A loss for current president Ahmad Zahid – also Malaysia’s deputy prime minister – could have implications for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s unity government.
But Ahmad Zahid has maintained his confidence in defending his position, saying in a policy speech on Friday that he would leave it to party delegates to decide if the roles should be contested.
He said on Friday that he did not pressure delegates into supporting the motion, and that he and deputy president Mohamad Hasan were in fact “surprised” when a delegate from the Malaysian state of Negeri Sembilan tabled the additional motion.
UMNO supreme council member Ahmad Said told reporters earlier on Saturday that more than 90 per cent of delegates supported the motion to uphold solidarity in the party, as it prepares to contest elections in six states.
“I want to reiterate that the top two never asked for their posts not to be contested, but it was the desire of the delegates. It shows that UMNO still prioritises winning the elections, as being united is more important than the positions themselves,” Mr Ahmad said.
But UMNO vice-president Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the motion did not seem to make sense.
“Party elections are normal in UMNO, even at division levels. If we are afraid the party will split because of elections, then might as well not have elections for division chiefs and so on, as grassroots too will be split,” he told the media after the convention.
Veteran UMNO member and former treasurer Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said after the convention that democracy in the party was “restricted”.
“Those who are not happy (with the motion) can contest. It won’t split the party … back then I went against (former president) Mahathir (Mohamad), the party didn’t split,” he said.
At UMNO’s most recent election, in 2018, Ahmad Zahid fended off challenges for the presidency from Mr Khairy and Mr Tengku Razaleigh.
MOTION IS “FINAL”
Ahmad Zahid said members who still wish to challenge for the top two posts will be referred to the party’s disciplinary board. The no-contest motion is not constitutionally binding.
“The general assembly is UMNO’s highest body as clearly stated in the party constitution,” he said, insisting that the motion passed is “final”.
He urged members who might be angry with the decision to stay united with the party moving forward.
“The delegates (who passed this motion) represent their grassroots members, so it is them who want to maintain unity in the party,” he said.
On what actions Mr Khairy could face, Ahmad Zahid said the issue will be discussed with Mr Khairy’s division chief and brought to UMNO’s disciplinary body.
Mr Khairy had alleged in a TikTok video on Saturday that some delegates’ seat tags at the convention hall were removed, to be replaced with those of “imported” delegates who would push through the motion.
This prompted a rebuke by UMNO Sungai Besar division chief Jamal Yunos, who told reporters on Saturday that Mr Khairy was tarnishing the party by spreading baseless claims.
Mr Jamal went further to claim that Mr Khairy had paid off delegates to boo the motion as it was tabled in the Merdeka hall, based on what he said were admissions by these delegates.
“I will make an official report to the disciplinary body, and I hope the body takes action and revokes his membership,” he added.