Friday, March 28, 2008



It’s now a struggle of life and death in Umno. Eight days after Pak Lah announced his new and trim cabinet, a third deputy minister resigned, the second from Sabah Umno. It is causing people to ask which way the monsoon is blowing. To all and sundry, the rival multi-ethnic Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) is, in fact, merely like an extension of Umno Sabah.

Pak Lah has lost confidence and the central power is collapsing. But in the party he is chief, a position of necessary deference in the patron-client culture Umno now entails.

But something must be done to secure the party from ruin and Tengku Razaleigh, once before a contender for party number one, is now leading the pack to contest Pak Lah as Umno president, with the former premier’s son, Mukhriz Mahathir, as flag-bearer in the mutiny for the bounty.

Meanwhile, in Trengganu where a stalemate resulted after the regnant refused to accept Idris Jusoh as Menteri Besar, Pak Lah’s resistance in the conflict with the ruler crumbled on 26 March, the former Menteri Besar falling victim. He has since announced the BN fully supports Ahmad Said as MB.

A specter is haunting Umno, casting a shadow the likes of the Angel of Death. Even as the party is becoming progressively a tragic comedy, some want the lame leader and his deputy to remain at the helm for yet another year before allowing for the party’s Supreme Council election.

It would be like putting the party into deep freeze, the DNA recoverable to revive it like in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, but of a pygmy.

The party elections should have been held last year. It was postponed by Pak Lah with the backing of his deputy, Najib Tun Razak, and the party’s Supreme Council.

While Umno is still the largest single winner in the recent elections, the BN it leads, having lost the two-third majority in parliament, is looking like Humpty Dumpy and waiting for the great fall.

In one terrible sweep of the People’s temper the BN lost four states in the recent elections, while in Kelantan the Islamic Pas strengthened itself beyond belief.

From a majority of one in the state assembly the Pas rose to the heights of 38 in a field of 45, leaving Umno and the BN cast in crystalline despondence with only 6 seats, the remaining one given to the PKR.

The leader’s head must roll, but with Najib Tun Razak having to take cover behind the number one from the mob in the wake of the Altantuya-Razak Baginda murder trial, it would take a general rebellion in the dazed party to oust the duo from the helm.

A challenge against the two top posts will damage party unity to a degree, whatever will be the outcome.

Can the behemoth regain cohesion after the battle for control is the big question. It is however foregone. The battle is on if Pak Lah refuses to quit.

The BN did not simply lose power. The central authority is in a shamble. Pak Lah was successfully challenged by two Malay rulers of the federation who rejected the Prime Minister’s decision to retain Shahidan Kassim in Perlis, and Idris Jusoh in Trengganu, as Menteri Besar.

The events crystallized the resolve of the minority in Umno to contest and unseat both the number one and the number two in the party.

Party insiders say 12 Umno divisions in the Razaleigh-Mukhriz pact shall move to demand for an Emergency General Meeting to be held on May 11 and for the party elections to be held later this year.

The Umno Supreme Council has decided on 27 March the party election will be held in December, a move some see as buying time. Nothing was said about the Emergency General Meeting Razaleigh had asked the party divisions to demand.

The party divisions are moving as Razaleigh intended. The first of these, the Cheras Umno division, has done it. Unconfirmed reports say the Puchong Umno division will soon do the same.

The plan is to contest against Pak Lah and Najib in the party. The hope is for the 12 in the pact to snowball and strike home the message for the party members to chew and digest that this time the party must either change the leadership or ignominiously die like a drowned sewer rat in the next general election.

Some party bigwigs not only want the elections delayed but are again wishing away the right of members to contest against the top two. That was done in 2004.

Pak Lah and Najib suspended democracy in Umno, denying members the right to contest the number one and number two positions in the party Supreme Council and in the Wings. Tengku Razaleigh hobbled on merely a single nomination for president as a result.

As the melodrama unfolds and the deputy transport minister, Ghapur Salleh, tendered his resignation, political watchers gravely ponder on the possibility in Trengganu of a walkout by a dirty dozen from Umno to form the new government with the Pas eight, which gives the 20 a clear majority in the field of 32.

Pak Lah has kneeled before the constitutional monarch to save his skin, but not before slurring the sovereign. He had said the regnant had made an illegal move.

Then the Umno state liaisons secretary, Wahid Rosol, was reported to have said the remaining 23 Umno state assemblymen were directed by Pak Lah to boycott the swearing-in ceremony at the palace that had been scheduled on 23 March.

The dye could have been cast. The new Menteri Besar, Ahmad Said, is already installed and he can cast the required spell to dissolve the state assembly and force another state election, no matter the change of mood Pak Lah has announced. The Pas will make a clean sweep of Trengganu should that happen, giving six states to the Alternative Front.

It is the king who will call the shots. Pak Lah must now beg for the sovereign’s mercy to keep Trengganu with the BN.

What will Umno decide? Will most members still want to sink and swim with Pak Lah and Najib?

How will Najib decide? Will he do as he did in 1987 when the party was split in the middle and he was with the ‘B Team’ until the arithmetic favored him?

At the last moment he swung to ‘Team A’. With 26 delegates’ votes he had in his grip he tilted the scales conclusively in favor of the ‘A Team’, led by Mahathir, the incumbent president.

Najib was very calculative. Mahathir won against Tengku Razaleigh by 43 votes in 1987. The party lay dead on the judge’s bench in court in the following year, but regained life as Umno (Baru).

It is a matter of life and death for Umno once again. It’s a simple decision to either go for change at the top or to conserve the lame.

A seer is required to peer into the crystal-ball to see and tell Pak Lah what lies in the near future for him and his silenced son-in-law, Hairy.

For Najib, the job is that of a magician the likes of David Copperfield. He should decide to come out loud behind Razaleigh or find the means to vanish before the mob that’s waiting to clobber him as soon as the Altantuya-Razak Baginda trial is done.

But it is now about how Umno will behave that is the focus of attention, the party being quite uncertain about what it should do in the uncharted waters. It has begun to show split-resolve and looking at the way the opposition to Pak Lah and to Najib is shaping, an effective mutiny is clearly being brewed.

Umno must either resolve as a whole to remove Pak Lah (and Najib unless he joins the rebellion) or the party will bleed to death, members crossing over to the parties in the Alternative. This is a do-or-die resolve that Tengku Razaleigh and Mukhriz are leading, insiders talking about “a circle” having formed months before around the elder duo, Tengku Razaleigh and Mahathir.

They concluded they have to aggress now to save the party or Umno will surely be damaged beyond repair.

But it is looking like Umno must be ready to sustain some injury one way or the other, seeing there is little cohesion other than what arises from the patron-client grip. Without any clear moral function, coherence can only edge on the ethnic temper. What is the winning remedy the duo proposed?

Why can’t Umno begin to think in terms of opening the party to the PKR like it is an extension of Umno Sabah and for Anwar Ibrahim to be reinstalled where he belongs in Umno?

Many questions need to be asked. Until the Umno Supreme Council agree to the Extraordinary General Meeting to be held on May 11, the pressure from the divisions, it is believed, will continue to crush Pak Lah. --- a. ghani ismail, 26 March, 2008

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