UMNO leaders have been rather secretive about what went on at their supreme council meeting in Janda Baik last Friday (Feb 19).
Some of them claimed it was a normal meeting and the highlight of the evening was the musang king durians from a Pahang orchard.
But it was one of the most significant meetings in months because of an “ultimatum” from Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
Muhyiddin has asked Umno to decide whether the party wants to contest the general election as part of Perikatan Nasional and he wants an answer by March 1.
This was conveyed to Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi during the “meeting of three presidents” from Bersatu, Umno and PAS last Monday (Feb 15).
That was the same meeting that resulted in PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang’s blood pressure shooting up, and he had to be rushed to the Putrajaya Hospital later in the day.
Hadi’s health has become a matter of some national interest and when the National Heart Institute or IJN heard about it, they immediately asked for him to be transferred there because he is their patient.
Hadi had gone all out during the meeting to press for the three Malay parties to reach an electoral understanding in the general election.
When Ahmad Zahid explained that the majority of Umno divisions were against working with Bersatu, Hadi said Umno had said and done worse things to PAS and yet the two parties are able to cooperate.
He even brought up the Memali massacre episode as an example of how Umno had mistreated PAS and recalled how he asked PAS supporters to support Umno in all the by-elections.
“My president is committed to the idea of straight fights in the election. He is adamant that the three Malay parties should not contest against each other.
“He has told us many times that if we work together, we can win a two-thirds majority in Parliament, ” said Selangor PAS election direction Roslan Shahir.
As such, the Umno supreme council meeting was basically to discuss the PM’s ultimatum.
There was also an urgency of sorts, because Muhyiddin is believed to have told the three presidents that he may call for a general election before Aug 1 - he may not wait for the state of emergency to end to dissolve Parliament.
He means to seek his own mandate at the earliest possible time, hence the pressure on Umno to come to the negotiating table.
Umno understands the need for straight fights with Pakatan Harapan and vice-president Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid has conveyed this to the PAS leadership.
The three parties will probably face the general election as Perikatan Nasional Plus although it remains unclear how they will carve up the seats to contest.
While Umno leaders are keen to cooperate with PAS, the distrust for Bersatu runs deep.
In the meantime, supreme council member Datuk Seri Shakar Shamsudin said Umno will continue to support the Perikatan Nasional government as well as the leadership of Muhyiddin.
He said this arrangement will continue until Parliament is dissolved.
“We will cross the bridge when we come to it, ” said Sharkar, who is also the Lanchar assemblyman.
Sharkar said the party’s earlier decision to use the Barisan Nasional “dacing” symbol in the general election has not changed.
Ahmad Zahid also addressed the endless speculation over the appointment of a deputy prime minister (DPM).
He said the matter did not arise because there has not been any official request from the Prime Minister for Umno to propose a name or names.
He told them the party could not simply go to the Prime Minister with a name if he has not asked for it.
“How can we decide on something that is still up in the sky, ” said Sharkar.
It is understood that some supreme council members aligned to Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein argued that appointing a deputy prime minister would strengthen the party.
But others did not see the point of Umno taking up that post if the general election is just around the corner.
The supreme council members agreed with their corporate tycoon colleague Datuk Seri Johari Ghani that Umno is a big party and has to play a dominant role.
“Whether Umno is the government or the opposition, it has to be in charge. It cannot be somewhere in between, ” said Johari.
A senior supreme council member also hinted that approaches are being made to Ahmad Zahid - who is facing a string of graft charges - to persuade him not to contest the election.
However, if he insists on defending his Bagan Datuk seat, then they see the need to persuade him to declare that he is not Umno’s candidate for the premiership.
It is a terribly delicate situation but a group within the Umno leadership is aware that the party will not do well if their president is the prime minister candidate.
The ball in Umno’s court and tough decisions have to be made if the party intends to make a big comeback. The Star