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UMNO no contest - MGG Pillai
By web aNtu

18/1/2000 3:28 am Tue

UMNO Leaders Continue To Roil Over The No-Contest Suggestion

UMNO leaders continue to cringe at the Supreme Council call last week to return unopposed the president and deputy president at the General a#sembly elections in May. The call fell on deaf ears. The order suddenly became a suggestion. UMNO leaders, out of kilter with its members and ground, agreed; this, they thought, would help their own electoral chances. But it was not to be. The ground is prepared, at a pinch, allow the Prime Minister in uncontested, but not the deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. He is not the deputy president; that was Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim until his expulsion, deadly a#sault in custody, trials, jailing. UMNO does not allow for acting appointments: when Dato' Hussein Onn succeeded Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman as deputy prime in 1973, he remained UMNO vice-president, as he remained deputy president when he succeeded Tun Razak as prime minister in 1976. The Supreme Council ruling would a vice president given special consideration to be elected deputy president. UMNO members are unhappy at this.

The Supreme Council should not tell members whom to vote for, but it did just that. In 1993, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim ignoring this ruling and forced the deputy president, Mr Ghafar Baba, to concede victory to him before the General a#sembly. Then, Tun Ghafar was the elected deputy president. Dato' Abdullah is not the deputy president now. Moreover, the ground suspects the Supreme Council's intentions, even that it went along as the leaders' requested. The Prime Minister, the deputy prime minister and other senior leaders continue to insist the ground could ignore the Supreme Council recommendations. If so, why was this made? The UMNO Secretary-General, Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob, informs UMNO divisions of this to implement. Newspapers, including which support it, question it. The doubts will continue unless the UMNO Supreme Council, at its next meeting, formally withdraws, and instruct divisions to nominate whomever they want for the various positions. UMNO is caught in its own trap: UMNO elections this year could be keenly fought, with the outsiders challenging the status quo, helped by the growing anti-establishment segment, which includes supporters of the ousted deputy prime minister. Normally ignored, they became a powerful lobby within UMNO which ignores it. That Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah now calls on UMNO to understand them better underlines their strong pockets within the party.

The Prime Minister wants to preserve himself and his immediate leaders, and Dato' Seri Abdullah his natural successor. This deliberately shuts out Tengku Razaleigh. Now 63, this could well be his last attempt to be prime minister. The prevailing wisdom is he would challenge the Prime Minister for the party presidency. But it would make sense for him to go for the deputy presidency. Malay tradition discourages challenging the leader; when he is, he invariably gives way. The Prime Minister ignored this in 1987, insisting he would remain even if he won by a single vote. The Tengku's challenge is accepted by the Malay ground was necessary. He now probably would not challenge the Prime Minister to keep that tradition alive, and challenge Dato' Abdullah Ahmad Badawi instead. He has more support than others believe he has. Indeed, the anti-Mahathir UMNO faction are in his corner, along with the still considerable Anwar supporters. And he has behaved in traditional Malay fashion, and therefore more acceptable with the ground than before. UMNO division leaders talk of the Prime Minister allowed the presidency and even Dato' Seri Abdullah the deputy presidency, but not the Supreme Council itself. The UMNO party leaders a#sert the primacy of the party rather than individuals. An indication they a#sumed once too often that they know what is best for the party.

M.G.G. Pillai