UMNO’s internal disarray worsened today as a war of words broke out between a party leader and Malay daily Utusan Malaysia that is seen as its mouthpiece.
In an act of unusual audacity over the weekend, the newspaper’s editors pressed former Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak to apologise for misappropriating billions from 1MDB.
It is unclear who penned the piece written under the Awang Selamat pseudonym the newspaper’s editors share, but Umno’s Datuk Puad Zarkashi laid the blame squarely at the door of Utusan Melayu Bhd executive chairman Datuk Aziz Sheikh Fadzir.
“Aziz has gone too far as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has not even filed any charges regarding the slander that Najib stole RM2.6 billion of 1MDB’s money,” Umno’s former propaganda chief wrote in a letter to Utusan Malaysia.
“So, what is the basis for Aziz to accuse Najib of guilt and to demand his apology?”
Puad accused Aziz of prematurely condemning Najib and demanded the Utusan chairman explain the rationale of the editorial.
He also demanded that Aziz confirm if he was the one behind the offending piece as well as for the latter to apologise for “jumping to conclusions”.
“If he does not, then Umno members should boycott Utusan.”
The unusual editorial by the financially-distressed newspaper, in which Umno is the largest stakeholder, was just the latest sign of the growing rift within the party that has still not come to terms with its part in the 1MDB scandal.
On Saturday, just before a dialogue Najib organised to comment on current affairs, Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan issued a statement that effectively told Najib that his legal troubles were his own and that the party should not be blamed for or burdened by these.
Former Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin also openly disputed Najib the same day, telling the latter the party and Barisan Nasional were voted out purely over the 1MDB issue; the former prime minister sought to blame this on “lies and slander”.
Khairy also derided Umno supreme council member Datuk Lokman Noor Adam after the latter criticised him for “pointing fingers” at the party, telling Lokman that he would sack him from Umno for “having the IQ of a carrot” if he ever becomes Umno president.
The disarray is indicative of the leadership vacuum in the once-dominant Malay nationalist party.
Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has yet to steady the listing ship after replacing Najib. Like Najib, he is also facing a mountain of criminal charges over corruption, money laundering and criminal breach of trust.
The party also appears on the edge of being gutted from within, with rival PPBM fuelling rumours that up to 40 of the Malay nationalist’s federal lawmakers are about to defect.