The birth of the UMNO shadow movement

“The very fact that Mahathir had conspired with party insiders and Muhyiddin to sabotage Rustam’s bid for deputy presidency in 2009 is itself an indication that the former premier had long intended for his son to be made Muhyiddin’s deputy, and ultimately, the Prime Minister of Malaysia”


On the 16th of March 2009, the internet was abuzz with news that Dato’ Seri Mohd Ali Rustam had been barred from contesting the deputy president post in UMNO. According to the party’s disciplinary board, the (then) Malacca Menteri Besar had breached rule 10.1 of the party ethics by soliciting the assistance of third party agents to bribe delegates into voting him.

Now, there is a very specific reason how this came to be. It began with a survey released prior to Rustam’s disqualification, which revealed that the Malacca born was the party favourite against contenders Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib. Should Rustam have contested during the 26th of March 2009 UMNO election, he would likely have trampled Muhyiddin and Taib to emerge Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak’s deputy in UMNO, and going by party precedent, the next Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia.

But that didn’t happen.

The man who did not want Rustam anywhere within a ten-foot pole distance from the deputy premier’s post was none other than Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia. When it became apparent that Rustam was the party favourite, the former premier struck a deal with Muhyiddin to sabotage the former Menteri Besar by leaking details of his dealings with lobbyists to the UMNO disciplinary board.

In a quid pro quo arrangement of sorts, Mahathir promised to support Muhyiddin as Najib’s successor should he agree to turn Dato’ Seri Mukhriz Mahathir – the former premier’s son – into his deputy. The plan was for Muhyiddin to spearhead a shadow movement (which was launched much later by a certain Dato’ Seri) within UMNO with the capacity to sabotage Najib when the time was right.


The setting up of a shadow movement was part of a long range mission to turn Mukhriz into Prime Minister by 2021. Back then, Mahathir was under the impression that his son, who was contending for the party’s youth leadership, would trump his competition within the youth wing with the Prime Minister’s ‘intervention’. Fortunately or unfortunately, Najib chose to remain neutral and refused to endorse Mukhriz, preferring to let delegates decide who the party’s youth leader would be.

The Prime Minister’s nonpartisan approach irritated Mahathir considerably. So much, it prompted the former premier to set 2015 as the deadline for Najib’s exit from government. Mahathir realised that Najib was not one to take orders and couldn’t be trusted to turn Mukhriz into Prime Minister by 2021. It was then that the former premier decided to turn Muhyiddin into Najib’s deputy by hook or by crook.

On the 19th of March 2009, just three days following Rustam’s disqualification, Mahathir criticized Muhyiddin’s remaining contender, Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib, as someone who lacked command in English, accusing the former Menteri Besar of Selangor of being a “corrupt politician.”

“One of the candidates couldn’t write in English, he couldn’t speak English and therefore (that was why) he did something wrong in Australia because he could not understand English.

“My choice is Muhyiddin (Yassin),” Mahathir said.

The statement marked the first time ever in Malaysian history that a former premier openly endorsed a candidate vying for a post in UMNO prior to party elections. Back then, Mahathir commanded considerable support from party elders who almost instantly threw their weights behind Muhyiddin.

But not everything turned out as Mahathir planned.

Among the biggest ‘upsets’ on polling day was Khairy’s triumph over Mukhriz, in what amounted to “the clash of half-brothers” – one being Mahathir’s biological son, while the other, his political son. Khairy, who polled 304 votes in a closely-fought battle, foiled Mahathir’s plan to have Mukhriz contest the party’s vice presidency the next time around.

However, seeing that time was not on his side, Mahathir decided that Mukhriz needed to contest the party’s vice presidency during the next party election by hook or by crook. On the 15th of August 2013, a preliminary version of the UMNO shadow movement was launched, with a Malacca born Dato’ Seri put in charge and tasked to rally support for Mukhriz.

The Dato’ Seri, who had tentacles lodged firmly within Najib’s circle of media advisors, influenced reporters to feature Mukhriz as a man with ‘many charitable attributes’. On the 21st of September 2013, The Star carried an article that described Mukhriz as a “renowned political figure,” whose rise in UMNO was “on his own merit and not because of his father’s influence.”

Ironically, Mukhriz was nowhere near the ‘UMNO star’ the daily cut him out to be. Notwithstanding, the junior Mahathir paraded in state functions accompanied by his father, who deliberately withheld from attacking Najib to ensure that his son’s chances at vice presidency was not jeopardized. But nothing that Mahathir did could have changed the outcome of the 19th of October 2013 UMNO election.

On that day, Mukhriz came up fourth against six contenders, ending Mahathir’s dreams of turning his son into Muhyiddin’s deputy by 2016. Yet again, Najib chose to distance himself from the race by taking a nonpartisan approach. A furious Mahathir told Muhyiddin – who had already come to know of an international complicity to sabotage 1MDB (READ HERE) – to establish if there was any merit to information implicating Najib in a conspiracy to rob the Malaysian fund of its worth.

But all that aside, the very fact that Mahathir had conspired with party insiders and Muhyiddin to sabotage Rustam’s bid for deputy presidency in 2009 is itself an indication that the former premier had long intended for his son to be made Muhyiddin’s deputy, and ultimately, the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Can Mahathir please come out to deny this?



TELEGRAM: Raggie Jessy Rithaudeen

TWITTER: Raggie Jessy Rithaudeen