UMNO Expels, Suspends Senior Party Members, Including Former Cabinet Ministers
By Iman Muttaqin Yusof and Noah Lee
Senior UMNO heads rolled on Friday as party boss Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in one fell swoop expelled or suspended those who had recently challenged his decisions – or his primacy.
Outspoken COVID czar and former Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin was thrown out along with Noh Omar, who is the former Entrepreneur Development and Cooperative minister and ex-head of the United Malays National Organization in Selangor state.
Hishammuddin Hussein, the former defense minister who married into royalty and is a son of a former prime minister, found himself suspended for six years, along with the party’s former information chief and two others.
“UMNO members who have been sacked based on disciplinary breaches, according to the UMNO Constitution, due to wrongdoings during the 15th General Election are Noh Omar and Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar,” the party said in a statement after its Supreme Council met on Friday night.
“UMNO members whose rights in the party have been suspended for six years are Hishammuddin Hussein, Maulizan Bujang, Mohd Salim Sharif and Shahril Sufian Hamdan.”
Khairy responded on social media.
“Tonight I was sacked by the party I love, to which I owe allegiance. Unbowed, unbent, unbroken,” he wrote on Twitter.
The sackings and suspensions would not have come as a complete surprise to many because Zahid on Thursday announced there would be a purge.
The party would carry out a “large-scale cleansing,” targeting those who had “sabotaged” the organization and “shot themselves in the foot,” Zahid told reporters then. “Those who haven’t felt the heat yet, they will, tomorrow night.”
UMNO’s statement did not list these members’ “disciplinary breaches,” but their so-called transgressions were well-publicized.
Noh had stepped down as Selangor UMNO chief because he was dropped as a candidate in the election, and said he had “lost confidence in the president [Zahid].”
Hishammuddin had been dead-set against UMNO allying with the coalition headed by arch-enemy Anwar Ibrahim to form a government after the election.
As for Khairy, he had called for Zahid’s resignation as party president following UMNO’s disastrous showing in the November general election.
The Oxford-educated former UMNO Youth chief had also described as “madness” the decision to leave Zahid’s post uncontested in the organizational elections that must be held by May. Khairy had said he was planning to run for the president’s post.
It was these upcoming party elections that prompted the purge, said Lau Zhe Wei, an analyst from the International Islamic University of Malaysia.
“The party election is the main reason why they sacked and suspended them,” Lau told BenarNews.
“With this move, it means that the party election will be safe for Zahid and his gang. … It serves as a warning to those who intend to rebel or be critical. Even Khairy can be sacked. Hishammuddin can be suspended.”
Another analyst, Bridget Welsh of the University of Nottingham Malaysia, said Friday’s developments would weaken the already divided party even further.
“It will push the pressure of divisions down into the party itself. Force those inside the party who are unhappy to leave the party, which would weaken the party,” Welsh told BenarNews.
The sackings and suspensions, she said, reflect an insecure leader who is removing potential challengers.
“He’s assuring the grassroots that they have been disempowered. … First, voters left UMNO; now, grassroots may leave UMNO, not all, but many. This is not how you go about strengthening the party,” Welsh said.
“Who chooses to lacerate a wound in the party instead of dealing with the infection inside UMNO?”