Laman Webantu   KM2A1: 2213 File Size: 6.3 Kb *

Douse fire with petrol - MGG Pillai
By web aNtu

6/1/2000 5:21 am Thu

The National Front: Dousing Political Fires With Petrol

The National Front survived as long by dousing political fires as occurs, to force-feed a superficial unity by a total subservience to UMNO. That works so long as UMNO is untouched by factional fights that bedevil MCA, Gerakan, MIC and others in the governing coalition. And UMNO worked well with coalition leaders whose belief in democracy is restricted to their party's general a#semblies returning them and their coterie to office, and Malaysians their candidates to parliament and the state a#semblies. That is now put to test despite the National Front's better-than-hoped-for victory in the recent general elections. After 25 years, the National Front frays so severely at the edges that its future is in doubt. It solidity depends on UMNO's continued dominance, and that, after the elections, is questioned. The long years in autocratic office, the fusion of business and government, the unacceptable levels of nepotism, corruption and cronyism compounded by the devaluation of the institutions of governance often makes the unconnected Malay the target. When the Malay is incensed, as he is now, UMNO trembles; when UMNO trembles, constitutional proprieties go overboard. He Who Must Be Destroyed At All Cost is a focus, but the resurgent Malay opposition and the irrevocable loss of two Malay states disembodies the National Front with no worldview than to remain in office. UMNO faces forest fires within it as severe as it is in other National Front coalition partners. Into this comes the MCA parricide and Gerakan self-immolation. And the Perlis mentri besar, Dato' Shahidan Ka#sim, redefining nepotism by appointing his brother as his political secretary.

The Gerakan smoulders. The two Gerakan state a#semblymen in Penang defected after the general elections to force an MCA representative to be chief minister instead of Gerakan's Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon. That backfired when UMNO, to break the impa#se, suggested a rotation of the chief minister's post. And threatens to reduce Gerakan within the National Front to that of the People's Progressive Party (PPP). The two men are in limbo, neither in MCA nor Gerakan and out of kilter with their constituents, with the near certainty of the National Front losing the seats should they resign from the a#sembly. The MCA-Gerakan quarrel, besides, devalues Chinese strength in the Malaysian political equation; indeed, their leaders hold political office under sufferance. So the 400 members who followed Dato' Lim Ee Hong out of Gerakan yesterday (4 January 00) is more serious than the numbers indicate. Gerakan is irrevocably split. The former chief minister, Tun Lim Chong Eu, and his old United Democratic Party (UDP) comrade, Dato' Lim, now is prepared to bury Gerakan, the years of papering over internal contradictions and hostility unable to withstand the vissitudes of fortune. The MCA has a lot to answer for this. In Penang, the Chinese disgust, especially after it ensured the defeat of two opposition stalwarts, Mr Lim Kit Siang and Mr Karpal Singh, from the state a#sembly and Parliament, must irk, if not frighten, both MCA and Gerakan. Within the National Front, MCA and Gerakan are subsumed in the larger political disturbances in UMNO.

The Chinese swing towards the National Front in the general elections was as dramatic as Johore sweeping the state: neither with the leaders, gumption or vision to press their case. The UMNO Supreme Council's declaration that the Prime Minister and his deputy be returned unopposed as its president and deputy president underlines weakness not strength. The Prime Minister's call for a clean UMNO election is in sharp contrast to its stand during the general elections. Into this comes a variation of the nepotism argument. Dato Shahidan Ka#sim, the Perlis mentri besar, wants his brother placed high in Perlis UMNO. He could not when PAS captured the Arau parliamentary constituency in a byelection; thinks he has when he now appoints him as his political secretary. That is not all. UMNO clearly fractured into discernible political and the cultural factions, both yet undefined formless groups. The Prime Minister leads one and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah the other, the former with the edge. He would no doubt remain in control of UMNO, but that could dissipate UMNO's hold over the cultural heartland, already badly shaken over the Anwar affair. The new state UMNO liaison chiefs reflects total loyalty to the Prime Minister than to their ability to reorganise UMNO in their states. Arising from this, traditional UMNO members shift their political allegience to PAS or, less frequently, Keadilan. UMNO has yet succeeded in staunching this. It reflects Malay uncertainties. Where once this focussed on the Prime Minister, it now gradually is on UMNO itself.

Is there a way out? Not if the General a#sembly in May is lobotomised to vote the current coterie into office. Whether it could be is another matter. But the mainstream newspapers report on this as if it already is. One perceptive observer argues that the Prime Minister is already the most reviled Malay leader in history. That may or may not be but the deafening silence to his political fine-tuning to his advantage reflects not support but controlled anger. That UMNO lost Trengganu to PAS, which retained Kelantan as dramatically, reflects this, more than of Islam's resurgence. The Prime Minister's difficulty is that he focussed the future on his persona rather than on the country or party. Sleepwalking through it all, the National Front and UMNO now trip into political traps it placed to continue in power. This cultural divide the MCA, Gerakan and the Chinese community misunderstood to complicate the National Front's future. And threatens to reduce UMNO's status of cultural protector of the Malays to an also ran, as the Congress Party in India eventually became.

M.G.G. Pillai