In recent months several events point to familiar UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) intrigue. This occurs whenever there is a tussle for power at the highest level. Is Muhyiddin (who just launched his blog – Muhyiddin Yassin for Malaysia), Prime Minister Najib’s Deputy, attempting to overthrow his boss? Najib, who only came into power in April of 2009, is in real danger of not completing a term as Prime Minister (read here).

Muhyiddin has taken some tangential positions to his “boss”. Muhyiddin’s stance on hot button issues such as the “Allah” Court ruling — insisting that Christians drop the usage of the word “Allah” and backtracking on the formation of an inter-faith council to resolve the “Allah” issue through dialogue — were ominous. In fact, Muhyiddin demonstrated his fundamentalist credentials as soon as he became Deputy Prime Minister in April 2009 but strengthened them further in October 2009 (he made racist statements against Anwar Ibrahim), when it was clear that fundamentalists were gaining the upper hand in UMNO.

The context to this is simple — UMNO has two different views on how to remain in power — to become a Malay/Muslim extremist party to capture the Malay votes or to return to the middle ground — which had served it well for the past 52 years. Muhyiddin represents the first view while Najib the second. Unfortunately, due to Najib’s indecisiveness, he is considered the new “Pak Lah” (the former Prime Minister) while Muhyiddin is seen as the new “Mahathir” (read here). Despite, Najib’s policy prescription of “Malay Leadership”, it appears that UMNO is still about “Malay Supremacy” as represented by Muhyiddin.

Najib’s 1Malaysia slogan and policy agenda (read here, here and here) has been systematically rubbished by UMNO hardliners with the support of key government Ministers such as Muhyiddin and Malay/Muslim civil servants and non-governmental organisations bent on ensuring continued “Malay Supremacy” (more here, here and here).

Then there were the fire-bombings of places of worship (mostly Christian) after the “Allah” court ruling which shattered Malaysia’s facade as a peaceful nation where people of different faiths and races live harmoniously. Furthermore, a recent forum organised by JAKIM (the Islamic Development Department) blamed Christians for tensions in the country and a forum panellist threatened Christians with a repeat of May 13 (race riot organised by certain UMNO members after losing 2/3 majority in the Peninsula Malaysia in 1969) — a view which is supported by Muhyiddin but not Najib.

Several startling events point to insiders sabotaging Najib. The story of two missing jet engines which occurred during Najib’s tenure as Defence Minister surfaced after being “…solved…”. It was surprising that the scandal resurfaced under the eyes of Najib’s once trusted ally, the current Minister of Defence, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. Since the scandal broke, two individuals, believed to be scapegoats have been charged.

The biggest set-back came a few days ago when the Prime Minister’s special aide, Nasir Safar , allegedly called ancestors of Malaysians of Indian heritage beggars and thieves and women ancestors of Malaysian Chinese prostitutes. This happened at, of all places, a 1Malaysia forum attended by the UMNO’s partners from the Barisan Nasional. Nasir also threatened to revoke the citizenship of non-Malays who challenged the limit of 12 subjects that a student can take at the SPM (Malaysia’s equivalent to O-level) examinations (Muhyiddin is the current Education Minister who came up with this ruling which reduces the value of subjects such as Tamil, Mandarin and Bible Knowledge).

Several commentators have already suggested that Najib is facing unprecedented resistance to his reform agenda and is being sabotaged in the process (read here) as his middle of the road approach goes against the very being of UMNO.

Najib’s position is weak — both in UMNO and nationally. His ruling coalition is unstable with all key component parties facing leadership crises. The economy continues to falter and Malaysia’s weakening reserves suggests capital flight. Anwar’s Sodomy Trial and the “Allah” issue may drive moderates further away as fundamentalists push UMNO further to the right. Judging by previous UMNO intrigue (e.g. May 13, 1969; Operasi Lalang, October 1987; Reformasi, September 1998), it is likely that Najib will have to resort to underhand tactics to save his position in UMNO — and as always it is innocent Malaysians — mostly likely opposition leaders and democracy that will pay the price.

Read Is Najib On His Way Out (Part II) here

Update (1) 11 February 2010: Malaysia veering towards instability

The influential Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) has released a blistering report on Malaysia.

Update (2) 11 February2010: Muhyiddin says PERC report nonsense

Muhyiddin continues ala “Mugabe” but no word yet from the Prime Minister. The senior opposition member, Lim Kit Siang, has asked the Prime Minister to respond to this report.

Update (3) 13/02/10: Muhyiddin accused of stoking racial tensions.

A favourite target of UMNO chauvanists have been the DAP lead Penang state government. Deputy Prime Minister has accused the Penang state government of disrespecting Islam based on a fraudelent report by Utusan Malaysia.

Update (4) 25/02/2010: The Harakah consultant editor, Wong Choon Mei had alluded to a power struggle in UMNO as early as January 2010.