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UMNO Leader Zahid's Comments Highlight Potential Source Of Tension In Malaysia's Unity Gov't


UMNO leader Ahmad Zahid Hamidi yesterday called on grassroots members of his party to separate the upcoming state elections from the party's push to free jailed former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has "conveyed through his children that support must be given to the unity government."

  • Zahid, who chairs the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional alliance and serves as Deputy Prime Minister told reporters that "there is no reason to have any thoughts of not freeing him," when asked about pressure from rank-and-file UMNO members to free Najib or be held to account by party grassroots.
  • Najib currently serves a 12-year prison sentence for his involvement in the so-called 1MDB scandal. Zahid is a close ally of Najib and member of the informal "court cluster" of UMNO leaders who were facing corruption charges. Under his stewardship, UMNO have been calling for royal pardon for their imprisoned ex-leader Najib.
  • Ahead of last year's election, the court cluster has been targeted by the anti-corruption messaging of current Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's Pakatan Harapan bloc, who vowed to promote clean governance. As the election returned a hung parliament, Anwar's PH teamed up with Zahid's BN to form a unity government.
  • While freeing Najib would severely undermine Anwar's credibility as a reformist leader. However, Najib's imprisonment continues to generate tensions in PH-BN relations, which may grow deeper if the federal coalition underperforms in state elections. While a collapse of the coalition remains an outside risk at this point, such a scenario would throw Malaysia's fractured political scene into fresh turmoil.

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