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N9 crisis - MGG Pillai
By web aNtu

20/12/1999 3:13 am Mon

The Negri Sembilan Crisis Worsens

The Gemencheh state a#semblyman, Dato' Waad Mansor, acquitted on three corruption charges with the Anti-Corruption Agency appealing against it and with two more corruption charges against him, ensured the political crisis in Negri Sembilan. The former school teacher whose finances once were such his newsagent would yet him periodically for not paying his newspaper bills today has a house in Taman Clionbe in Tampin that could possibly not be built with the proceeds of his hard work and political dedication. As Tan Sri Mohamed Taib, the schoolteacher-turned-mentri besar of Selangor, could have the RM2.4 million spending money, which he carried in a paper bag, on that famous trip to Australia a few years ago. Dato' Waad Mansor was suspended as a state executive councillor on being charged but on his acquittal, he was not only returned to the state a#sembly but restored as state executive councillor. The Yang Dipertuan Besar and the immediate past Yang Dipertuan Agung, Tuanku Jaffar ibni Almarhum Tuanku Abdul Rahman, would not swear in the mentri besar and his state executive councillors for more than a week. He informed the Prime Minister of their unsuitability, mainly of allegations of corruptions against them, but the Prime Minister would not budge and said he had full confidence in Tan Sri Isa and his men. The first swearing-in turned out to be an investiture ceremony; in the second, one state a#semblymen walked out. Tan Sri Isa said he expected that from one who was a persistent critic.

But it was not an isolated protest. Several UMNO divisions in Negri Sembilan have attacked Dato' Waad's appointment, with the Kuala Pilah division chief, Dato' Abu Zahar Ujang, insisting Dato' Waad should have the "moral courage" to step down. But he also made a curious remark that Tan Sri Isa should have informed the Prime Minister of Dato' Waad's legal problems. Dato Seri Mahathir Mohamed, he implied, could not screen all candidates because of "the time factor", and should therefore not be blamed for what happened. Unfortunately, it is not as cut and dry as that. The Yang Dipertuan Besar formally informed him of the problem, but he chose to back the mentri besar. He takes moral responsibility for what happened, but since blame does not attach to him when things go wrong, it would, under the tested and trusted Bolehland political practice, be Tan Sri Isa who takes the rap. Loyal UMNO members who back none other than the Prime Minister see no reason why such bumbling should be left untouched. Especially, when protests like these -- over corruption, nepotism and cronyism -- would give them a high profile when UMNO delegates come to vote at the next UMNO General a#sembly. Datin Napsiah Omar, the former state executive councillor who is now MP for Kuala Pilah, did not get the cabinet position she had been led to believe was hers, and she prepares the ground to challenge Datin Siti Zahara for the UMNO Wanita chieftancy. It is with this in mind that the criticism against the leadership is as insistent as it is now.

And not only in Negri Sembilan. The UMNO leadeship is worried about this trend, and looks for ways to reduce a fractuous fight, even to wanting to ensure the president and deputy president be re-elected unopposed. The Malay ground shifted dramatically. The Anwar Ibrahim campaign slogan, after his dismissal from UMNO and as deputy prime minister last year, of fighting corruption, nepotism and cronyism is the major campaign issue in the UMNO heartland. The ground swell, reflected in the Negri Sembilan reaction to Dato' Waad Mansor, would grow so long as the Anwar imbroglio remains unsettled; but even if it is, UMNO delegates would be canva#sed for votes by pointing to corruption, nepotism and cronyism in high places. But the Negri Sembilan should not have been. It is, with Johore, the only state to have returned all National Front candidates to state and parliament. But for the Prime Minister, Negri Sembilan is his most vulnerable state.

The stakes in the coming elections are such that if he does not resolve the revolt -- and that is what it is -- he must see it expanding into the other states as the UMNO General a#sembly draws near and the election of branch and division leaders begin a few months hence. The Prime Minister is caught in a web of his own making. By insisting on federal control over state political appointments, he finds himself tarred with the mentri besar's arrogance. Indeed, he should have appointed some one else as mentri besar. In a state where adat perpateh rules, Tan Sri Isa from Linggi, where the prevailing customary law is the adat temenggong, the relationship between mentri besar and ruler was uneasy at best. When he began taking sides in customary appointments, when he should not have, it was a matter of time before this blew out into the open. This cannot be papered over by arrogance.

M.G.G. Pillai