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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Even before GE-13, interest builds in UMNO polls: 4 may vie for presidency

Sulaiman Kamal | 4:46 PM | | | | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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Malaysians from all quarters are calling for a change of government. Many agree that Prime Minister Najib Razak should step down to save Malaysia from further embarrassment. And yet, UMNO supporters, while they feel disillusioned by Najib and wife Rosmah Mansor, they have little in the form of alternatives.
With his credibility in tatters due to gross mismanagement of recent issues, especially the Bersih 2.0 rally for free and fair elections, it is a wonder that Najib is allowed to lead the BN to seek a new mandate via General Election number 13.
Yet Najib can remain in power as long as he wants, with or without GE13; as long as he can keep 2,700 UMNO delegates happy. This is the truth behind Malaysia’s brand of democracy. Malaysians are never able to pick a Prime Minister of their own choice. Instead, Malaysians are left to accept the choice UMNO makes when it chooses its president at its General Assembly.

Najib has announced that the UMNO general assembly would be held at PWTC from Nov 28 to Dec 3. The assembly will begin with the UMNO international forum on Nov 28 and 29. The party's Wanita, Youth and Puteri movements will hold their pre-council meetings on Nov 29 and assembly the following day. The UMNO general assembly will be from Dec 1 to Dec 3.
It did not say the party polls will be held at the same time, and based on this, the presumption is it won't.  Unless  there is a further announcement from the Supreme Council, the presumption is party polls will be held next year as Najib has already obtained an 18-month postponement that won't kick in until the second part of 2012.
This year’s assembly comes on the back of a year of gross mismanagement and fumbles by the Najib administration and whether this translates to a change in leadership at the helm of UMNO, is open to discussion. Already there is talk that the gears have started turning and a new leader will soon be unveiled in UMNO.
The presidential candidates
Najib, Muhyiddin, Tengku Razaleigh and even Abdullah Badawi are the rumoured to be interested in the president’s seat. And though everyday Malaysians may cringe at this list, the UMNO delegates who will be the ones to deliberate and then vote. They will have no qualms about choosing the personality that best serves their interest.
Muhyiddin has certainly made his mark when he spoke on behalf of the government that 100 BN lawmakers would be given RM100,000 grants to use within their constituencies. This come on the heels of complaints by the lawmakers that Putrajaya was more interested in putting money into large scale projects and not in developing rural constituencies.
This was a simple task for Muhyiddin, administration comes easy to him. He climbed the political ladder in UMNO’s homeland of Johor to finally secure his seat as deputy president of UMNO. And this is would definitely be highlighted to the delegates. If this is a criteria UMNO delegates take into account in choosing their presidents, then Malaysians may have a good administrator as Prime Minister, but also one who is potentially cruel.
Muhyiddin does not hide his thoughts on what Malaysia should be like. His famous, “Malay first, Malaysian Second” statement epitomise his overall stand on how Malaysian society should be organised. Malays on top and the rest, on the bottom.
Tengku Razaleigh’s latest upstart, Amanah, is seen by many as a third force in the Malaysian political landscape. The strength of Amanah will rest in its ability to touch base with youth who show interest in politics and seeing change in the way Malaysia governs itself. In the right hands, Amanah could be a huge tool but does Razaleigh hold enough influence amongst the younger delegates to deny Najib a second term as UMNO president.
Abdullah Badawi came out from obscurity to talk to Ambiga Sreenevasan during the days leading to the Bersih July 9th march. It surprised many and was seen as enough of a threat to Najib that the very next day, news emerged of whether officials involved in the investigation of the Australian banknote scandal had tried to bribe Badawi. Abdullah Badawi dismissed the claims and has since kept himself quietly in the background.
Unlike Najib or Muhyiddin, Badawi personally has less to hide except maybe an over-ambitious son-in-law, who is slowly positioning himself as the good guy alternative to fumbling Najib and the “Malay first” Muhyiddin.
And as Muhyiddin applies pressure from within UMNO, Amanah applies it from outside. As for Badawi, he can basically play only one role -  the bungling  but good-guy role. As for Najib, Malaysians saw him lying public over the Bersih rally. Few think highly of him at all.
UMNO delegates have their own criteria
Yet UMNO delegates rarely choose their president based on the measures that other Malaysians would expect.
While Malaysia needs a Prime Minister who is fair and is responsible towards all the various communities, UMNO’s president is expected to safeguard Malay status first and ensure the survival of UMNO-owned or linked businesses next. And this conflict of interest has been the scourge of the nation for as long as Barisan Nasional has been in power.
The constant bickering within the UMNO elite may actually weaken UMNO’s stranglehold on the government. It was internal conflicts within UMNO that led to the loss of 5 states in the 2008 general elections. The mechanism of choosing the UMNO president has spawned a culture of money politics and jockeying for positions within factions in the party.
For all its rhetoric of being stable and being a bastion of Malay rights, UMNO is a fragmented party with various factions eyeing the top spot and come General Assembly 2011, these factions will bare their teeth as the battle to govern Malaysia begins in earnest. Provided of course that Barisan Nasional wins GE-13.

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