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Since UMNO president Zahid Hamidi dropped a number of senior UMNO leaders aligned to former prime minister Ismail Sabri from standing for election on the UMNO ticket, speculation has been rife that Zahid intends to claim the post of prime minister for himself.

It is not an unreasonable assumption given that the post of prime minister is usually held by the president of the party. If UMNO wins big, the opportunity will simply be too big to pass up especially since Zahid will have all his men in place. Besides, what better way to manage the dozens of criminal charges he is now facing than from the prime minister’s office. The prime minister, after all, gets to appoint the next attorney-general, the man who will be prosecuting his case.

No surprise then that the opposition is using this to attack Zahid and UMNO-BN relentlessly. Unlike Ismail Sabri’s fake bullets built around phony allegations against former attorney-general Tommy Thomas, the suspicions about Zahid’s intentions are potentially very damaging.

You can tell by the way UMNO-BN is reacting that they are really concerned. Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan, MIC president SA Vigneswaran, MCA president Wee Ka Siong , Umno vice-president Mahdzir Khalid and Umno information chief Shahril Hamdan have all hastily denied or dismissed the reports.

Even UMNO candidates – including Sungai Buloh candidate Khairy Jamaluddin and Kuala Krau candidate Ismail Mohamed Said – are denying it out of fear that it might undermine voter support.

All the haste to distance themselves from any talk about Zahid becoming PM is a sure sign that UMNO-BN has suddenly woken up to the realization that Zahid – with all the criminal charges pending against him – is a tremendous liability and a huge embarrassment.

Voters are increasingly concerned too over the prospect of such a man becoming prime minister. Many who were not too excited about the elections before are now gearing up to  vote if only to stop Zahid.

Perhaps that is why caretaker prime minister Ismail Sabri – who succumbed to Zahid’s demands to call for early elections against his better judgement – is now hinting that the elections could be postponed if there’s major flooding during the campaign period. As if they were not warned about the potential for floods; it’s the monsoon season after all – duh!

It makes me think that perhaps they are now worried and running scared. The tide could be turning against  UMNO-BN. And it’s only the fourth day of the campaign!

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 8th November 2022]