Umno in a pre-state election identity crisis 2023

Malaysia’s former ruling party Umno must rebuild its image as the champion of the majority Malay-Muslims while adjusting to its minority role in the federal unity government ahead of six state elections that could determine its political relevance.

Analysts predicted the following two months’ surveys will show Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s popularity among Malays, who make up over 60% of the Southeast Asian nation’s 32 million people.

If the Malay nationalist Perikatan Nasional opposition front wins, it may shape Anwar’s policy.

Umno’s strength as the only Malay party that could challenge Bersatu and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) makes it a crucial aspect of Anwar’s multiracial administration’s election performance.

On Friday, Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi reminded the party’s general congress that Umno is not a political chameleon.

He pledged to safeguard the federal constitution’s four articles guaranteeing Malays’ rights and privileges.

Incumbency matters?

However, the vote divide meant no party or combination could enter government.

It saved Umno from political oblivion. The monarch appointed Anwar as prime minister on the condition that he form a unity government with Umno, their political adversaries, to break the gridlock.

In his policy address, Ahmad Zahid called this a “political adjustment” to ensure Umno’s place at the table. It paid off: he became deputy prime minister and other prominent Umno leaders became ministers.

On Friday, 25 years after being fired by Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar returned to Umno’s headquarters to attend the start of its general assembly.
Ahmad Zahid emphasised that Umno must be “progressive” in finding its place in Anwar’s multicultural administration while also reclaiming its status as the Malays’ preferred party.

“If we truly want Islam and the Malays at the forefront, our inclusion in government… will strengthen a moderate and progressive Malay-Muslim agenda,” he stated.

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