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Former Kelantan Umno chief Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed is the consummate politician, a leader who is respected by both sides of the political divide, revered and respected by the Umno faithful. PIC BY FATHIL ASRI

UMNO is still the single biggest party in Malaysian politics. But it may not be for long.

To date, they still have 49 parliamentary seats and they still have strong support from the Malay populace. The supporters, along with those who voted against them for various reasons in the last general election, want to see them become a strong opposition and provide meaningful checks and balances against the current government.

In a previous article, I wrote about the need for Umno to streamline its communications in order to be strategic and focused, and not to confuse its target audience. But what the party is doing right now is the antithesis of streamlined communications; differing statements and narratives are still emanating from multiple sources, disillusioning and confusing members and supporters.

How can Umno continue to inspire and represent the Malays when there seems to be a — some say an obvious — leadership vacuum in the party?

Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is the official leader of the party, having democratically won the presidency in the recent Umno elections. But after becoming president, he has been cautious in releasing statements on the issues that are currently affecting the nation. Surely, such a guarded approach doesn’t augur well for the party in general, and for the supporters.

In the four months since Pakatan Harapan took over, there have been many issues the opposition could have raised, taking the government to task. While there have been a few statements here and there, the infighting among members is hampering it from becoming an effective opposition.

If we go by perceptions right now, Umno is clearly a house divided. Such perceived division doesn’t allay the concerns of the grassroots members and supporters who are beginning to think that the party has lost what it takes to speak and stand for their interests.

And, with Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed quitting the party, it has further thrown the party into a leadership abyss.

Tok Pa, as he is affectionately known, is unanimously regarded as one of, if not, the consummate politician; an indefatigable leader who is respected by both sides of the political divide, revered and respected by the Umno faithful, perennial top vote-getter in the Supreme Council elections, and scandal and taint-free. If a leader of Tok Pa’s calibre could give up on the party he’s been a part of for the last 40 years, what hope is there for Umno?

And, with the rumour that more are expected to leave the party before the Umno general assembly at the end of the month, things are certainly looking grim. As it is, former Supreme Council member Datuk Seri Anifah Aman quit the party less than 24 hours after Tok Pa’s exit.

Unsurprisingly, as soon as Tok Pa announced his exit, the warring sides started propagating different and conflicting narratives to fit their own respective agendas.

It is normal for any party to have differing factions with divergent views, and credit should be given to Umno for allowing such openness. However, the
party should not tolerate views that are made with the intent of one-upmanship — to show that one group is better than the other.

The leaders who position themselves as “reformists” must also realise that as long as they have the same kind of arrogant and contemptible propagandists in their coterie, they are no different from the people they criticise. More importantly, they should agree that no individual is bigger than the party, regardless of how certain leaders perceive themselves to be.

Umno needs to seriously reconsider how they communicate, not only to the people outside the party but also, and more importantly, among themselves. I understand that each group may have its role to play, but it should come from the same set of objectives, and with clear delineation of each group’s target audience.

As it is presently constructed, Umno will find itself on an extremely difficult journey to regain the people’s trust and confidence. The warring factions must put egos aside, work together for the betterment of the party, and solidify the party’s position as the true representative of the people. Infighting, that is broadcast all over social media, is nothing but self-indulgence and a selfish way to make oneself feel more important.

Umno needs to address its problems now. Unless something is done soon to resolve the petty squabbles, as well as identify a direction and stand by it, not only will the party have to wait longer in its quest to recapture Putrajaya, it could even lead to its untimely death.

Ibrahim Ivan Omar heads Brand Strategy at The In/Out Movement, an ensemble of thinkers, creatives and perfectionists who believe in doing right things right. He can be reached via [email protected]; or Twitter: @ckliio9.

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