COMMENT | Umno politics has suddenly taken a turn with the appointment of Hishammuddin Hussein as a special functions minister in the Prime Minister’s Department by none other than Najib Abdul Razak, the prime minister of the country.
Why this sudden appointment and whether this was fully discussed in Umno circles is not clear. However, one thing is certain, that Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the home affairs minister and deputy prime minister, might be facing uncertainties regarding his future and whether he will succeed Najib is altogether not clear.
While political parties especially the ruling ones will try to ensure continuity with a minimum of political disruptions, nothing is certain. In many quarters, Zahid with his appointment as the number two man in the country was clearly the choice of Najib to succeed him when he retires or is forced out of office.
For a while Zahid as the number two man was ‘basking in the sun’ as though there was nothing to alter the country's history and his rise was a forgone conclusion. How wrong he was.
However, things change for the better or worse. In the case of Zahid, changes that are happening might not be healthy for his future political life.
Even before the appointment of Hishammuddin, rumours were rife that Zahid has had disagreements with Najib on many matters including the granting of permanent residential status to the controversial Islamic preacher, Zakir Naik.
However, disagreements notwithstanding, Zahid was overconfident that nothing could alter his relationship with Najib and that he was being groomed take over the number one post of the country.
But with the appointment of Hishammuddin as the special functions minister, there are already faint writings on the wall that Zahid cannot help but take notice.
In other words, Najib has apparently come to the conclusion that even the slightest hint of ‘disloyalty’ cannot be tolerated and action must be taken to thwart such moves.
The axe has not fallen on the neck of Zahid yet, but it might be in the offing and there are good chances.
In politics when loyalties are questioned, there is a tendency to move away from universalism to particularism. In the case of Umno, doubts of Zahid's disloyalty have predisposed Najib to think about invoking primordial sentiments to ensure this continuity.
In this case, he has come to realise that Hishammuddin might be a better choice to be his successor since he is a close relative.
What better way of warding off political enemies than by relying on the old primordial or ascriptive sentiments.
‘Might become a footnote’
Zahid has no choice but to support the appointment of Hishammuddin, but signals are clear that unless he is more calculative and moves fast, he might become a footnote in the history of the country’s annals.
Zahid might not be a bad person, but Malaysians might not have too much sympathy for him for not parting company with Najib over the IMDB and other scandals that have rocked the nation over the last few years.
He was a sort of ‘champion’ who blindly defended Najib without examining the facts. He even ‘lied’ about Najib receiving funds from the Saudi royal family.
Perhaps Najib thinks that Zahid knows too much and in the long run he might become a liability for him.
He has probably reached a conclusion that he might use the ‘back-door’ method that Umno is very familiar with to bring in Hishammuddin to replace Zahid at some point in the near future.
Najib is also thinking that if he intends to vacate his post then he needs company. So the chances are that he wants to take Zahid along with him.
It would be too dangerous to leave Zahid in his present post while Najib is thinking of retiring from politics.
P RAMASAMY is Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang and the state assemblyperson for Perai.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.