By Mariam Mokhtar
It was a long wait, but Umno-Baru's president Zahid Hamidi finally showed some leadership qualities.
On 13 July, Zahid removed the party's election director, the controversial Umno-Baru supreme council member Tajuddin Abdul Rahman.
The party's deputy president, Mohamad Hasan, replaced him with immediate effect.
Many people may wonder if Zahid's attempt to cull his party of disloyal (to him) people is a case of doing "too little, too late". Or will he eventually succeed in "improving" Umno-Baru's image?
Malaysians will recall with horror, Tajuddin's abysmal handling of the worst LRT train crash, in which he told reporters that the situation was normal, the two trains had merely kissed each other, and gave several excuses for failing to visit the crash site or the victims in hospital.
Tajuddin is a magnet for criticism and ridicule. No one is under the illusion that the desperate Mahiaddin Yassin will not make secret deals to prop up his regime. Zahid was right to be rid of Tajuddin.
Who knows where Tajuddin's loyalty may lie, when Zahid needs the support of all his MPs in the crucial fight for domination against Mahiaddin's Perikatan Nasional (PN)? Mahiaddin is adept at applying the carrot and stick!
Zahid has removed Umno-Baru MPs who openly support Mahiaddin. In January, Zahid removed BN secretary-general Annuar Musa, who is the Federal Territories Minister and MP for Ketereh.
Annuar had said a further eight Opposition MPs would defect and support PN.
In March, Annuar claimed that MPs were attracted to PN because of its good performance, and said, "That is why the government's job now is to focus on carrying out its responsibilities, including those for COVID-19, economic recovery, racial unity and political stability."
What is Annuar's view now when PN has failed to contain the coronavirus, the economy has tanked, the country is politically volatile and foreign investors are warning they will relocate to other countries?
In April, Zahid removed Shahidan Kassim as Perlis Umno-Baru chief. Shahidan had yo-yoed between supporting Zahid and Mahiaddin.
So, when will Zahid remove Nazri Aziz, who decided to distance himself from the infighting by temporarily absconding to Paris for the next two months? The cowardly Nazri fires salvos from the safety of his Paris retreat and his wife's social media account, with or without her connivance.
If only Zahid and former presidents had expelled their racist, sexist, thuggish and incompetent MPs like Tajuddin, Annuar and Shahidan from Umno-Baru decades ago; but people will say that this is the pot calling the kettle black.
Is Zahid weeding Umno-Baru to give it a fighting chance in GE15, or is Zahid merely saving his own hide? He faces many charges for corruption, money laundering and CBT.
Will Zahid remove more Umno-Baru politicians who are a liability to the party?
Tajuddin has the ignominy of having been sacked twice, in two high-profile cases, within two months. He'd be lucky if he and his family are not charged with corruption for his allegedly dodgy dealings in Prasarana.
Perhaps a pact will be made to clear his name in return for an attack on Zahid.
Or will Zahid be the man who leads the wake for Umno-Baru?
The party has lost its power, its voice, its credibility and ability to dictate terms. Will it die a natural death, or be on life support for the foreseeable future?
Zahid may have gained some breathing space but he has to move faster.
With the coronavirus taking its toll on lives, the economy and people's livelihoods, the rakyat will start to look for someone to blame.
PN is at the helm, but the rakyat will also identify Umno-Baru as the co-creator of the nation's mess.
Umno-Baru's Ismail Sabri, as Malaysia's new deputy PM, will naturally be their target.
He led the National Security Council and was responsible for many decisions during the Emergency rule.
Perhaps, Mahiaddin deliberately nominated Ismail to deflect some of the blame onto Umno-Baru.
Umno-Baru politicians like Khairy Jamaluddin and Hishammuddin Hussein are now firmly associated with PN. They try to keep their heads down and maintain a low profile because they know things will get worse before they improve.
Despite this, Khairy has been vilified for his atrocious handling of the rollout of coronavirus vaccines.
Khairy and Hishammuddin are thinking of their own futures, like all other PN coalition politicians. They do not want to be caught in the crossfire and hope to emerge unscathed from the worsening Bersatu and Umno-Baru blood-bath. They want to survive the carnage and rule another day.
Today, politicians bicker among themselves, fight for the trophies, and further their own aims, whilst the nation is in meltdown, suicides are twice the normal national average, people are in despair.
Many firms have stopped operating, and foreign investors may relocate, but Bersatu, PAS and Umno-Baru are oblivious to this.
Zahid may not be able to save himself, but perhaps more competent people who are not yet tainted (if there are any to be found at the grassroots level) may salvage what is left and build a credible party, Umno-Baru 3?
Whatever happens, a ruling party needs an effective Opposition to keep it on its toes.
1. Malaysiakini: Zahid removes Tajuddin as Umno elections director
2. Free Malaysia Today: I wasn't told about removal as elections director, says Tajuddin
3. Free Malaysia Today: Tajuddin out as Umno elections director, Tok Mat takes over
4. Malaysiakini: It could become an 'Ismail Sabri' government – Tajuddin
5. Malaysiakini: Reports: Tajuddin detained by MACC, released on bail
6. Malaysiakini: LRT trains collide near KLCC, over 200 injured
7. Malaysiakini: End of the line for Tajuddin – MOF removes him as Prasarana chair
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)