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BN topsy turvy - MGG Pillai
By web aNtu

10/12/1999 6:07 am Fri

Subject: The National Front:
How To Move Ahead By Standing Still

The National Front's four decades in governance did not prepare it for its current crisis it now undergoes. Despite the three-quarters majority it has in parliament, the Prime Minister cannot find one with Islamic credentials for the religious affairs portfolio the defeated minister, Dato' Abdul Hamid Othman, held. Dato' Yusof Nor, his predecessor, could but he disappeared in the PAS electoral avalanche in Trengganu. The Prime Minister needs seven new men in the cabinet to replace those defeated or resigned; the finance minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin, blows hot and cold over his resignation even if his threat to resign forced the Prime Minister into early elections. The cabinet needs to retire another eight or nine ministers, but he is unlikely to address that. In contrast, the opposition PAS, which took office in Kelantan and Trengganu, not only formed the state governments but create controversies on the administration of Islamic law which forces UMNO into a corner. UMNO has yet to comment on the proposed PAS's non-Muslim land and profits tax called "kharaj", although everyone else has, with MCA even threatening to take the Trengganu government to court. Neither did UMNO comment on the Islamic hudud laws Kelantan pa#sed into the lawbooks in the early 1990s, which provides for amputation for theft and for other offences. Both are constitutionally improper, and the federal authorities should have slapped it down. But they cannot without being seen as anti-Islam.

The National Front won the battle but is about the lose the war. In every state but Perak and Johore, the state administrations could be formed only amidst strong internal opposition and much negotiation. In Seremban, the mentri besar, Tan Sri Isa Abdul Samad, is at loggerheads with the palace, with mud on his face after the state a#semblymen went to the palace to witness the state executive councillors sworn in but found themselves witnessing an investiture instead. The Kedah mentri besar, Tan Sri Sanusi Junid's refusal to continue threw the state administration into shell shock that until yesterday his successor had not been sworn in. The Pahang mentri besar, Dato' Seri Adnan Yaakob, is reappointed at federal insistence, though the sultan and many National Front state a#semblymen would have preferred someone else; even his predecessor, Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob, who handpicked him, and the education minister, Dato' Seri Najib Tun Razak, wanted someone else. The Penang fiasco over two National Front state a#semblymen resigning from the Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia after the polls created a crisis which would see the increasing irrelevance of the chief minister, Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon and his Gerakan. In Selangor, Dato' Seri Abu Ha#san Omar, on being sworn in for a second term, warned his state executive councillors to give up their businesses, which suggests this to be the norm in the past. This is, of course, not helped by the Prime Minister's refusal to prosecute senior party member caught with millions of ringgit in grocery bags.

The internal jockeying for influence -- most clearly in the MCA wanting the chief minister's slot in Penang and the unspoken second deputy prime minister -- is between both component parties and within each of them. The comfortable delusion that the Prime Minister's backing overcomes community anger is now put to test. The non-Malay party leaders clung on to power, ensuring a paucity of leaders who could take over. But when they gracefully should have made way for new blood, insist instead on continuing. But UMNO's moribundity within an cobweb-encased oligarchic autocracy fights a rearguard battle against its former deputy president, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, now in jail for misuse of power and on trial for s###my. This more than any other humnbled UMNO and the National Front despite. Without a resolution over him -- his s###my trial is postponed sine die, unlikely to resume for then the Prime Minister has to appear as his witness to lose further ground within the Malay community -- UMNO and National Front would linger without support or confidence. For despite the powers of the state brought to destroy him politically since his expulsion from UMNO in September last year, he retained the high ground while the Prime Minister took the low, that the government's credence depends on how this is resolved. At least 16 National Front MPs and a quarter of the 265 state a#semblymen, including the three challengers to be mentri besar of Pahang -- reportedly are aligned to him. His continued incarceration is, however you look at it, a self-destructing mechanism UMNO and the National Front cannot afford to live with. Especially with Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, with an angry Kelantan and Trengganu UMNO behind him, and a seemingly neutralised Dato' Seri Najib from Pahang, snapping at the Prime Minister's heels.

M.G.G. Pillai