KUALA LUMPUR - Far from scaring Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, political analysts believe the veteran politician’s suspension is hurting Umno’s image more, especially as the Malay nationalist party seeks to shore up support both from within and without for the next general elections.
Singapore-based analyst Ooi Kee Beng said the Umno supreme council was seeking to force unity within a splintered party by taking out its second in-command and teach a lesson to the rank-and-file what awaited them if they did not toe the line.
“His suspension will not so much cause more division than fear and apprehension in the ranks.
“The considered effect is to unite Umno’s leadership through fear of further purges and to minimise Muhyiddin’s opportunities for speaking to Umno members at the lower levels,” the deputy director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies’s Yusof Ishak Institute told Malay Mail Online in an email interview yesterday.
The country’s largest political party and the backbone of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) has been wracked by divisions after several elders and senior office-bearers criticised the leadership of Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Ooi said that Najib is winning in the internal power struggle that has since emerged, but warned that Umno’s recent action showed the party that espoused moderation was drifting further to the right, which may cost it dearly in the next election.
“His allies within BN have their own constitute to think about, and Umno moving more and more to the right will also undermine its allies’ ability to win votes,” he said.
Lim Teck Ghee, director of Centre for Policy Initiatives, said Muhyiddin’s suspension, on top of his removal from the federal Cabinet last year, has the effect of peeling off Umno’s democratic exterior and exposing a hollow core.
“Umno’s claim to be a democratic party will now be seen to be hollow and unsustainable. This will have ripple effects both within the party as well as in the Malay community,” the public policy researcher said.
Lim also asserted that Muhyiddin’s suspension has also deepened divisions within Umno into two distinct camps.
He said both sides were also gaining traction among their supporters with their respective perspective on going forward.
“Both sides clearly see themselves as correct and justified in the positions they are taking,” he said.
Ibrahim Suffian, programme director at polling house Mereka Center, shared a similar view with Lim, noting that the schism within Umno is growing.
However, he said the two camps were only “marginally” growing colder with each other, because Muhyiddin was not the main instigator against Najib prior to his suspension Friday.
“Muhyiddin has not taken an active role in underlining his differences and has not mobilised membership against the leadership so it’ll be marginal.
“I think whatever schism that has been caused will remain in Umno in the sense that there might be some division within Umno, like those in Johor may be unhappy with his dismissal,” Ibrahim said.
Muhyiddin lost his deputy presidency in Umno but remains Pagoh Umno chief, and the whole division rallied around him before and after his suspension.
In a statement yesterday, the division said it rejected the supreme council’s decision, claiming the suspension violated the party constitution and was a betrayal of Umno members nationwide who had elected Muhyiddin to office.
Ibrahim said Umno’s already tarnished image may not worsen.
“Ultimately Umno’s image is already what it is. Even if it takes a hit, it’ll be relatively small because people who supported them are hardcore supporters anyways, they’re loyal to party not the individual,” he said.
By Mayuri Mei Lin