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UMNO Fires And Fireflies - MGG Pillai
By web aNtu

18/1/2000 2:45 am Tue

National Front: UMNO Fires And Fireflies

The Perlis mentri besar, Dato' Seri Shahidan Ka#sim, is livid. He appoints his brother his political secretary, and Bernama, the news agency, misunderstands. And Malaysians misunderstand his stellar role in developing hidden Perlis talent for national service. So, he would ignore Bernama until it would lie that he is not. The mentri besar wants us believe sibling considerations intruded not; the man proved his "desire" to serve by taking a 70 per cent and more pay cut; the state UMNO youth wanted in on the state administration. The state UMNO deputy chief is one Ismail Ka#sim, and he decided to give the fellow a chance. As he allowed his trouncing PAS in the Arau parliamentary by-election for practical experience in politics. Curiously, he was dropped as National Front candidate for parliament in the general elections. Dato' Seri Shahidan cannot understand, in his political double-talk, why his brother should be barred from high office. Nepotism, in his view, is all right. The man in power only wants the best for his people, and if the best is his own brother -- or in the Prime Minister's view, his children and brothers-in-law -- that is the family's high-minded sacrifice to the nation. The Prime Minister has a similar outlook, so why should not he?

Politicians, especially from the governing coalition, expect nothing but servility from those around him. They would not talk to the riff-raff of the press -- of which I am a long-serving member -- who ask uncomfortable questions about their links with cronies and their unexpected wealth after a few years in office. The "national interest" requires the Press to keep the governments, except now in Kelantan and Trengganu, is good odour. The government's future plans get more prominence than today's failure of yesterday's plans. But the November elections shocked the system. Ministers are asked why they are absent from Parliament. The opposition demands an accounting. Even the mainstream media is afflicted by this shift. The government, willy nilly, has to explain its actions. That it is Bernama, the official news agency, which is Dato' Seri Shahidan's beta noire reflects it. What is at stake is not Ismail Ka#sim's competence or suitability but of Dato' Seri Shahidan appointing his brother his political secretary. That is unacceptable in UMNO and in the National Front even if party leaders ignore it. But then there is a vast different between a fire and a fire fly.

The UMNO Supreme Council ignored this when it decided upon no contest for the UMNO presidency and deputy presidency. The current occupants would be returned unopposed. But within days the UMNO ground unease led even the establishment Utusan Malaysia to voice them. Which is why the UMNO president, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, repeatedly distances himself from that UMNO suggestion which he says the divisions can, if they wish, ignore. At the same time, the UMNO secretary-general, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, insists state liaison chiefs should percolate this Supreme Council suggestion to the ground. Why? The UMNO Supreme Council brought matters to a political head by its kangaroo court drumming out of its deputy president in September 1998 at the Prime Minister's direction. Why did he not, as UMNO president, discourage this discussion as a denial of democratic rights of its members to elect the leaders of their choice? If he had no part in it -- there is no suggestion that he and Dato' Abdullah Ahmad Badawi left the room while this no-contest discussion took place -- why does he plead his non-involvement in it? But his nervous disposition reflects ground concern at UMNO's unwillingness to change with the times after five decades in Rip Van Vinkle's company. The leaders, as the Prime Minister and the Perlis mentri besar, have only the nation's interests at heart and their actions, however contentious or self-serving they may be. But nationalism is not a political football only they can dribble with. But actions like the Perlis mentri besar's dissipate that still-huge reservoir of goodwill UMNO and the National Front still has. And it matters if he refuses to meet Bernama for the rest of his political life. In Perlis. Or elsewhere.

M.G.G. Pillai