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Sunday, August 7, 2011

At 86, Mahathir is still calling the shots in Umno

Sulaiman Kamal | 2:16 AM | | | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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Back in 2008, Najib Razak and Muhyiddin Yassin were only too happy and willing to help Mahathir Mohamad bring down the then prime minister Abdullah Badawi. Mahathir had made many attempts but could not hammer it through because Badawi had been smart enough to get a mandate of his own from the people, something that his successor Najib has failed to do and which is costing him now.
In 2004, Badawi who was Mahathir's anointed successor took the BN to a landlisde victory, a record 95 per cent rout that immediately sparked a jealous reaction from his former boss that too huge a dominance in Parliament was not good for the country. But Mahathir needn't have worried because in 2008, Badawi crashed. He took the BN to its worst-ever electoral performance, even losing the coalition's long-held two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Fitting in with Dr M's plans
This gave Mahathir the opportunity to oust him. Mutual respect between the two men had long flown out of the window. In place was a deep-seated hatred especially for Badawi's over-ambitious son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin, whom Mahathir blamed for freezing several of his pet projects including the crooked bridge to Singapore. By then the public was not so thrilled with Badawi either. From Mr Nice Guy and Mr Clean, he became known as Mr Sleeping Beauty for dozing on the job. It was also apparent that his family had benefited from his premiership, amassing huge wealth for themselves.
Now Najib finds himself in the same boat as Badawi in the aftermath of the March 2008 general election. The 58-year old Najib knows he is being pushed out but he seems determined to fight back, even though this may require him to 'bite the hand that feeds him', which had been Mahathir's. When the 86-year old Dr M decided to call it a day in 2003, he made sure Badawi accepted Najib as his deputy.
Why Najib? Partly it was due to old loyalties and to repay old favours to Najib's dad and uncle, who were the country's second and third prime ministers respectively. But mainly because it fit in with Dr M's own scheme of things which is to keep the leadership succession in UMNO a tightly-held affarir, with the UMNO presidency and premiership rotated amongst the Najib, the Hussein and his own family. All others such as Badawi would be seat warmers and this  includes Muhyiddin Yassin, who looks all set to fill Najib's shoes as the next UMNO president with Mahathir's support.
Who will Mahathir choose?
At 64, Muhyiddin is best known for his "I'm Malay first, Malaysian second" comment which has stirred great unease amongst the non-Malays. This ill-judged comment, while winning some support from the Malay community, makes it highly unlikely that he will succeed in managing or controlling the non-Malays which is essential if he wants to stay UMNO president on his own steam. This is what Najib found out the hard way, promising different things to different races and in the end, losing the trust of all and landing himself at the mercy of his party colleagues.
But as far Mahathir is concerned, the Muhyiddin weakness fits in with his key condition for support - one term only as prime minister - for all who come and seek his 'kingmaker' endorsement. Such a criteria is to allow his son Mukhriz, now 46, to become PM by 50 or early 50s.
Kelantan prince Tengku Razaleigh created a mini-stir when he suddenly launched an 'NGO' called Amanah two weeks ago. Straight-off he was accused of setting up a new political platform and initially the UMNO spinners made use of Amanah to accuse Pakatan parties PAS and DAP of plotting to replace Anwar with Ku Li. But their illogic could not sustain and Utusan - the UMNO newspaper which takes its editorial lead from Najib - is now 'advising' Ku Li to disband and not create further divisions amongst the Malays.
At 74, Ku Li is also able to accomodate Mahathir's No. 1 requirement of 'one term' only. Of the lot, he is perceived to be the most 'honorable', insofar as he will keep his promise to go when it is time to do so - in sharp contract to Badawi and now Najib. Like Muhyiddin, Ku Li's support within UMNO is restricted. But the disadvantage for Malaysians is that Ku Li, in having to honour his word to Mahathir, would end up being  just another 'lip-service' PM. To those who know Mahathir, it is inconceivable he would allow any policies for reform that could threaten the existing authoritarian style of rule. Malaysians can expect that his conditions for support would include a restriction on policy-making.
Why is Muhyiddin keeping quiet about Ku Li coming onto the scene? UMNO watchers say firstly, he has no choice but to be patient beacuse he has no significant support of his own in UMNO at all. Secondly, he is already ahead on the list and Ku Li kicks in only when it becomes apparent that his 'Malay first, Malaysian second' boo-boo is too insurmountable a risk to BN's retaining federal power. All considered, it is wiser to be patient.
For Badawi and Khairy, unless they spring a very dramatic power grab, it is hard to see them making any headway in UMNO at all. Badawi's support is weak and while he was well liked by Malaysians at one point in time, when he refused to champion them against Najib and the during the days of Perak crisis, opting instead to strike a deal for himself, they lost faith in him. As for Khairy, until he is able to convince Malaysians that he is not youngest billionaire in the country with the loot obtained through corrupt ways, no one will bother to waste time on him, except himself and his small little camp.
For Najib, the going can only get tougher and whaetver fight that he puts up, he won't be able to stave off his UMNO foes because he was foolish enough to kill off his own popularity with the people, who are actually the pivotal point in the power equation against Mahathir.
Najib's only trump card is he may try the same tactic his dad used to push out first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. Which is to create racial riots and instill military or police rule. And then go about systemically purging his rivals from UMNO and replacing these with his own loyalists. This is also Mahathir's biggest nightmare and he has already warned against it through his former adviser Matthias Chang.
Emergency rule is still in the picture
Obviously, should Emergency rule be imposed, the implications would affect far more people than the UMNO protagonists. It would mean a loss of democracy for Malaysia, and the toll this would inflict on the nation's future would be irreparable. But really, it seems as if Najib, Rosmah and his cousin Hishammuddin Hussein are more concerned about staying on and enjoying the fruits of their fathers' labours than what happens to Malaysians. Why they should think so or what huge gratitude Malaysians owe Abdul Razak and Hussein Onn is an enigma and lost to most people.
And this is may be precisely why Mahathir believes that if any Malay leader is owed a debt of gratitude and has the right to perpetuate his own dynasty, it should be him. He ruled Malaysia from 1981 to 2003. Razak ruled from 1970 to 1976 , Hussein from 1976 to 1981. As for Tunku, who was PM from 1957 to 1970, he died without a male successor and his family, having been shut out by Abdul Razak, has preferred to remain out of politics.
Despite having grown to a size of 3 million members, with nearly one person or other in most Malay extended families an UMNO member, the party is still very much an elitist and feudalistically-run outfit. Power is in the hands of a few and most of this power is currently in the palm of Mahathir's hand.
Just days ago, PAS leaders made a rare public accusation that some group in UMNO was trying to topple Najib. But at this stage in the power game, the PM's closest enemies are no longer from the Pakatan but from UMNO itself. And Najib knows who they are, the UMNO elite is nothing but a small old-boys club. Neither have his challengers minced any words and if he is feeling the heat from the string of scandals about his family's lavish lifestyle being exposed around the globe, then he'd better buy more air-conditioning.
Whoever wins the day at UMNO may not be able to clinch the PM's seat. There is a chance for Anwar's Pakatan to win at GE-13 and this may force a new and seismic shake-up in UMNO, perhaps the only way for the party to really reform itself and survive as a political option for the people.

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