Umno banking on Mat Taib's popularity in Selangor

KUALA LUMPUR: No one saw the return of former Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib to Umno today.

Speculation hinged on a variety of possible outcomes when it was announced that Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak was holding an important press conference.

Speculation ranged from Najib announcing the dissolution of parliament to the possibility of a major change in the Umno leadership.

It came as a surprise as for sometime now, Mat Taib as he is popularly known, had somewhat faded into the background of opposition politics.

Little had been seen or heard of him in recent months but today's announcement has catapulted him back into the spotlight.

What does this mean for the political landscape?

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said the message from Mat Taib's return is that he had given up on the opposition.

"They are not going anywhere. They are not going to emerge victorious in the coming election," he said, adding that the veteran politician by returning had signalled that the opposition was a lost cause.

Nur Jazlan pointed out that Mat Taib's return was also aimed at the Malay ground, particularly the older generation which in recent times may have been swayed by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's switch to the opposition.

"I think Datuk Seri Najib is trying to close ranks and bring back the veterans and with it the older generation voters who may have been swayed by his (Mahathir) rhetoric," he said while noting that in Selangor at least Mat Taib still commands some influence.

The political veteran joined Umno in 1964, and quickly rose within its ranks to be elected Umno vice-president in 2004.

Muhammad was also a five term Batang Kali state assemblyman from 1982 till 1995. He served as Mentri Besar of Selangor from 1986 to 1997.

His influence in the Batang Kali area and Selangor proved useful to PAS when he joined the party on the eve of the 13th general election and the former Mentri Besar was credited with the Islamist party doubling its seat count in the Selangor assembly.

The party had won seven seats in the 2008 general election but in 2013 won 15 seats. Many of the additional seats were former Umno seats which many in the party said fell because of Mat Taib's influence.

Selangor Gerakan youth vice chairman Ivanpal Singh said Mat Taib was the perceived architect of the Islamist party in Selangor and his return should provide a psychological boost to Umno in the state.

"It will be a consolidation of the Selangor Malay vote. He has pockets of supporters all over the state and now that he is back logically it should see a boost in the numbers for Umno and BN," he said.

Hopefully it should also register in more seats for BN at the next general election and possibly the recapture of the Selangor government.