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UMNO MKT poison offer - MGG Pillai
By web aNtu

5/1/2000 5:38 am Wed

Did The UMNO Supreme Council Offer Its President A Poisoned Chalice?

The UMNO Supreme Council yesterday (3 Jan 00) recommended that Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed be returned unopposed as president with Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as deputy president and next prime minister. It is not an order, mind you, merely a recommendation. Never mind that the front page coverage in mainstream newspapers and media suggested otherwise. The divisions can, if they wish, nominate their own candidates. The election for the UMNO president and deputy president is mired in restrictions put in after Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah challenged him in 1987, which led to the High Court declaring UMNO an illegal organisation. The UMNO Baru that Dr Mahathir formed made clear that leaders can be challenged only after conditions are met. That did not prevent He Who Must Be Destroyed At All Cost from unseating the then deputy president and deputy prime minister, Tun Abdul Ghafar Baba. The rules were refined further to make it all but impossible to unseat the two top leaders. That was relaxed after Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim was jailed. This new Supreme Council concern at the explosion of democracy in the re-election of the Prime Minister, as UMNO president, after his pyrrhic landslide victory in the November general elections.

The Prime Minister's concern is only to prevent a scramble or a challenge for the two top positions. But the larger concern surely must be who after them. This is unaddressed. The current concern is only to ensure the two leaders are unopposed. The Malay ground continues to be roiled by this same Supreme Council's unanimous decision to expel from UMNO Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim in September 1998. Now it believes consensually there should be no contests for the two top positions. The Malay cultural practice of keeping his counsel when chaos surrounds him is what dictates him. Few would want to reveal their hand, preferring instead to give the Prime Minister enough rope to hang himself. He wanted no contest. He got it not but not as a fait accompli; otherwise, he would have faced a mounting backlash. The Supreme Council, in any case, could not possibly have a#sessed the ground before making its recommendation; many were mauled in the general elections, several defeated.

The UMNO ground is in ferment. The organisation in Kelantan and Trengganu is in dissarray. UMNO branches and divisions elsewhere cannot meet to elect their leaders and nominate candidates for the Supreme Council for lack of a quorum. The general elections accentuated the alienation between branches and divisons, and between divisions and headquarters. The more important issue in UMNO should be how to revitalise the party to meet a resurgent opposition, especially from PAS, and focus who after the septuagenarian Dr Mahathir and the sixty-year old Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. This no-contest recommendation is to forestall a challenge from Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who, although the sole UMNO member of Parliament from the PAS-run states of Kelantan and Trengganu, remains the strongest counterweight to Dr Mahathir. Dr Mahathir could well be re-elected and Dato' Abdullah confirmed as his successor but the party machinery is in such shambles that it requires a surer hand than either Dr Mahathir's or Dato' Seri Abdullah's to right UMNO's ills. UMNO must renew itself candidly and brutally re-position itself back into the Malay cultural heartland where it was until the Anwar Ibrahim affair forced it out.

Somehow, in any discussion on UMNO, he looms large. Not for what he is or was but for what he has become. It does not matter now if Anwar Ibrahim is guilty of what he is charged with, languish in prison for the rest of his life, is convicted under a regimen which would not allow his acquittal. He has become an icon of the Malays. Like Nelson Mandela in South Africa during the darkest days of apartheid. The White regime in South Africa made Mandela an icon as UMNO of Dato' Seri Anwar, the catalyst for what the Malay cultural ground has become. The National Front's fright, despite its huge parliamentary majority, UMNO's internal travails, PAS's capture of Trengganu would not have been as dramatic had it not been for the botched demonisation of He Who Must Be Destroyed At All Cost. That loomed large in the minds of all those Supreme Council members who gave Dr Mahathir the poisoned chalice he craved. With the Anwar Ibrahim s###my trial beginning later this month, and UMNO branch and division elections in March and April in preparations for the UMNO General a#sembly in May, it is that and no more.

M.G.G. Pillai