Seminar on “UMNO and Malaysia’s Next General Election: Leaders, Agendas, Grassroots”

In this seminar, Dato’ Seri Nazri Aziz discussed UMNO, the balance of power between Zahid and Ismail, and how will Ismail negotiate his way forward.


Thursday, 14 July 2022 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a hybrid seminar titled “UMNO and Malaysia’s Next General Election: Leaders, Agendas, Grassroots” presented by Dato’ Seri Nazri Aziz. Dato’ Seri Nazri has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Padang Rengas since 2004 and held a number of ministerial portfolios including Entrepreneur Development, Tourism and Culture and Prime Minister’s Office (Legal Affairs Division). He holds a law degree from Lincoln’s Inn, London.

Speaker Dato’ Seri Nazri Aziz (right) with moderator Dr Francis Hutchinson. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

In the seminar, Dato’ Seri Nazri addressed three broad questions: intra-UMNO dynamics between Prime Minister Ismail Sabri and party President Zahid Hamidi; the challenges posed by Perikatan Nasional (PN) as a self-styled champion for the Malays without allegations of corruption; and the sentiments for the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with Pakatan Harapan and the next General Election.

Dato’ Seri Nazri replied to the first question with an overview of the internal divisions within UMNO. He commented that UMNO is split, given that the present Prime Minister Ismail Sabri only holds the third highest rank within the party, while he is subordinated to UMNO president Zahid Hamidi in terms of hierarchy. Nonetheless, Zahid is not a cabinet member and is therefore excluded from the government machinery. Dato’ Seri Nazri further explained that Zahid Hamidi is influential within the UMNO Supreme Council – the party’s highest decision-making body – while Ismail Sabri is popular among UMNO MPs, many of whom are not Supreme Council members.

In response to the second question pertaining to the rise of PN as an alternative coalition vying for support among the Malay electorate, Dato’ Seri Nazri answered that the main competitor for UMNO is not PN but Pakatan Harapan (PH). Nonetheless, he clarified that UMNO – regardless of its own preference –   has to collaborate with other coalitions in the present context. This is because UMNO only has 38 MPs, which falls short of the minimum 111 MP requirement to form a government. However, he predicted that UMNO would achieve a credible performance during polls since the party has a strong track record of serving the Malay community through charitable acts and welfare assistance. He added that Bersatu is likely to face difficulties in capturing votes since the party lacks grassroots machinery to conduct outreach and assistance. In addition, Bersatu failed to demonstrate concrete actions in uplifting the welfare and well-being of Malays. On the other hand, Dato’ Seri Nazri commented that he is amenable to collaborating with PAS in his constituency since PAS grassroots in Padang Rengas share close ties with those from UMNO.

Responding to the third question on the grassroots’ sentiments towards the general election and MoU, Dato’ Seri Nazri replied that Malaysia is facing rising inflation while the COVID-19 pandemic has not subsided. He therefore felt that UMNO grassroots and Malaysians, in general, are less interested in a general election to be held in the immediate future. Instead, he stated that the present Ismail Sabri administration should instead tackle issues affecting ordinary Malaysians – especially inflation and COVID-19. The present parliament is not due for automatic dissolution until July 2023, with elections held a maximum of 60 days later. Dato’ Seri Nazri shared that certain UMNO leaders are pushing for an early general election for their own personal interests. He added that the parliament should not be dissolved so soon since there remains a number of outstanding political reforms which have yet to be implemented, which was agreed upon under the MoU signed with PH.

During the question-and-answer session, Dato’ Seri Nazri responded to a range of questions pertaining to reforms in election campaign finance, a two-term limit for the Prime Minister and royal discretion. Dato’ Seri Nazri replied that campaign finance reforms are sorely needed to restrict political donations from being channelled towards individual politicians. He opined that donations should be made directly to the national party’s finances to prevent abuse. In addition, donations should be clearly documented with receipts and declarations. Dato’ Seri Nazri shared that he is personally interested in pushing for fixed-term elections and a two-term limit on the Prime Minister.   

The hybrid seminar attracted a large turnout of more than 100 online and on-site participants.

This event is supported by Temasek Foundation as part of the Malaysia in Focus series.

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)