Friday, April 11, 2008

Umno In Ballet


Squeezed into a narrow spider hole over two days of deft moves in Umno, deputy premier, Najib Tun Razak, must now make up his mind either to aggress for number one or be sacked along with Pak Lah in or before the party Supreme Council election scheduled for December.

The April 10 meeting of divisional leaders from Kedah and Penang with Najib issued him an ultimatum he cannot evade. They said they will vote for Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Muhyiddin Yassin for number one and two if he does not stand up and fight. They want Pak Lah out, pronto.

The following day in Johor, Pak Lah, in a meeting with state party leaders, could not offer a succession plan he was asked for.

A date for his exit was then suggested - 2010, when in the state’s Umno liaisons committee meeting on Saturday April 5, Pak Lah’s immediate departure was discussed, a consensus not reached merely because of Sharir Samad’s gratitude for being resurrected from the dead by Pak Lah who appointed him a minister.

Johor Umno was clearly saying on April 11 Pak Lah has no wish to retire, meaning Najib must quickly make his decision known.

There’s a problem in the party about Tengku Razaleigh’s intention to drag Umno into a “supra-ethnic” mode, impressed as he had said he was with the PKR’s success in his April 4 speech at Gua Musang.

Umno in West Malaysia would prefer to remain predominantly a Malay party.

But while Najib is the best man to conserve the image and the policy of the Malay nationalist party, the person himself will have to be bold enough to take the risk of having Pak Lah order a police and ACA probe into the affairs related to the murder of the Mongolian beauty, Altantuya Sharibu, some believe is connected to a grand kickback.

Prometheus, it would seem, is still chained to a rock for teaching humans how to play with fire.

Umno, after being sucked by the patron-client capture for decades and subjected to Mahathir’s sit-and-sunder dictatorial misconduct for many years, is now profoundly short of presidential quality, while the overwhelming materialism that had disused the party’s élan and ethos had made many rich Umno leaders bastardized either into images of calypso sugar-daddies whose minions do the dirty jobs for them or into outright cowards without the daring to even squash a bug with their naked krisses.

The party, still shell-shocked after more than a month since the March 8 routing at the polls, is floundering for a certain direction. Truth is, she has outlived her corporate lifespan without reinvention. Umno is already 38 years old from the time it was reborn after the Emergency of 1969.

The members, used to looting from after the success of the industrial and commercial transition can hardly imagine what nationalism and the national struggle is about, the job of winning at the elections mostly done by professional “Gurkhas” employed by the Prime Minster’s Department since Mahathir became premier in 1981, and dictator in 1989.

In the 1999 general elections Mahathir loudly muttered his displeasure at Umno members who will not move even to put up the party’s posters and banners unless their palms were laced with hard currency.

The members have become mercenaries. But as someone remarked, why shouldn’t they? Why should anyone work for free to keep multi-millionaires and billionaires afloat when most members can hardly afford to repair the kitchen of their houses without having to borrow from loan-sharks?

Umno simply does not make much sense any longer, dominated, as it were, by a fabulously wealthy and corrupt elite.

The party Supreme Council Mahathir had made all-powerful. Divisions can be frozen for the slightest dissent, the leaders and their families harassed for years, something people in the upper crust of the party know.

There’s a clear clash of cultures between the heavily gold-laden Umno patrons and the poor nationalist-dreamer having to crawl up the party ladder by dint of hard-work to be overtaken by overnight-enriched contractors of the Ali-Baba ilk, or by son-in-laws of the mighty who push-envelopes for colossal sums of gratuitous graft.

What sense is there left in Umno, especially after she has been reduced to a scum-size by the infant supra-ethnic PKR and her hardy bedfellows, one of an Islamic State origin and the other, a yellow-top taxi spreading Malaysian Malaysia since 1965 that has finally paid-off?

Even as Tengku Razaleigh is observably quiet after his shout for an Extraordinary General Meeting to scuttle Pak Lah he made on April 4, he ought to be remembered for calling on the party to purge herself from the corrupt, the oppressive and the deadwoods.

In short, Umno is in an ideological, leadership and vision-muddle, dwarfed in only four years of Pak Lah’s blunders after Mahathir had successfully spun a vision that somehow came to be respected by the people while it (the vision) was least understood in Umno herself.

The result is ludicrous – the former premier regretting publicly his choice for successor, and since ruing every person he placed in his and Pak Lah’s cabinet, including the current number two.

Mahathir made the rules in Umno that required candidates for president to be nominated by at least 30 percent of the divisions he now wants undone. Pak Lah wants it to stay.

Each nomination also carries 10 “bonus points”, making it possible for a candidate to win by an aggregate of those points, before the party delegates may cast their votes.

In 1993 Anwar Ibrahim challenged Ghafar Baba for position number two and won by the aggregate of “bonus point”, i.e. before the delegates cast their votes. Then Mahathir threw Anwar into jail in 1998 and the party has yet to recover from the aftershocks of that.

Now, with the “nomination quota” and the “bonus points” intact, and with Tengku Razaleigh’s inclination towards a “supra-ethnic Umno” not well-received by a large segment of the members, it is quite believable 34 Umno Members of Parliament from West Malaysia are now ready to cross court and jump in with Anwar in the PKR supra-ethnic push for Civil Society and a people-friendly government and political culture.

With 34 the Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) would become the ruling coalition enjoying a majority of five in Parliament and governing five states, which effectively turns the table around but which would still need the inclusion of at least Sabah and Sarawak to bring the comforts needed for stable government.

That comfort zone can come later. Fact is, Umno and the BN can be spun around into becoming the underdog at any time and as the underdog, it is becoming harder and harder to believe Umno has the energy and the coherence to fight and to get back to the top.

The blow impacted on March 8 is appearing fatal. What will Najib do?

Several more questions gape for an answer. Can there actually be a reawakening of Malay nationalism in the party? Would not some of the wealthy in Umno employ voodoo artistes from Haiti to do the job for them and the reawakened nationalist become a ballet of zombies in Precinct Three, Putrajaya, where the Palace of Justice is often seen as a Casino de Jure? --- a. ghani ismail, 12 April, 2008

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