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Sunday, June 30, 2019

The numbers game and Zahid’s return

Yesterday, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced his return as the Umno president.
As someone who is not a member of any political party, his return is of no consequence to me. But as an avid political observer, I believe there is more to Zahid’s return than meets the eye.
First, he is coming back to active duty as Umno president barely 48 hours after being slapped with a record total of 87 corruption charges.
Any politician facing such a long list of corruption charges amounting to hundreds of millions of ringgit would have taken a backseat from active duty, at least temporarily, if not resigning from the party altogether.
Zahid’s return, therefore, was counter-intuitive for a party which had just won three consecutive by-elections while he was on leave.
Further, the timing couldn’t have been more jarring considering that Umno is trying to rid itself of its baggage as a party that thrives on rent-seeking.
So, it stands to reason that Zahid’s return from “garden leave” is part of a political game that is rapidly unfolding in the corridors of power.
It is hardly coincidental that Zahid being slapped with so many charges came on the heels of the power play between Anwar Ibrahim and Mohamed Azmin Ali, following the latter’s alleged gay sex scandal. Both are contenders to succeed Dr Mahathir Mohamad as the eighth PM.
It is also no secret that Umno MPs are split over whether to support Mahathir or Anwar. Zahid is known to back the latter as he goes back a long way with Anwar, including serving as his political secretary back in the day.
It wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine that the charges against Zahid were timed to influence the numbers game in the event that a revolt is mounted against Mahathir by way of a vote of no confidence in Parliament, which resumes meeting this week.
Zahid’s return yesterday was a show of strength within Umno.
In an interview, Umno secretary-general Annuar Musa said his party had been wooed separately by Mahathir and Anwar’s supporters should the two go separate ways. Annuar also confirmed that Umno MPs were divided over which side to take if push comes to shove.
These developments must also be seen in the context of the controversial forfeiture suits filed by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) against 41 individuals and organisations. Already questions have been raised over why certain political parties or individuals friendly to the federal government have been spared.
Some also asked why MACC chief Latheefa Koya decided to go down this road when the attorney-general himself had asked that the 1MDB criminal court case be postponed.
And in the midst of all these, Haziq Aziz posted an open letter to Mahathir over the weekend, asking the latter to be fair in the sex video scandal. The timing of the letter has only raised more eyebrows.
Looking at all these individual developments from a holistic view, there appears to be a recurring theme or a common thread that ties them together: the levers of power are being pulled in this high-stakes political chess game.
And this much is clear: the puppet-masters are not some mid-level bureaucrats. The breadth and scope of the operations suggest that they extend all the way into the deepest core of power in Putrajaya.
Was there any outright abuse of government machinery? The government owes the nation an explanation. We had enough of that in the past and certainly do not want to see it reappear.
This is not the Malaysia Baru that voters hoped for when they kicked out Barisan Nasional last year.
Abdul Latiff Yusof is an FMT reader.

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