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Umno veteran speaks? - MGG Pillai
By web aNtu

21/1/2000 9:52 am Fri

The UMNO Elections: The Veteran Speaks Out

The Prime Minister does not want his position as UMNO President challenged. He roped in his deputy prime minister and UMNO vice president as his annoined deputy president by wanting him returned unopposed. The UMNO Supreme Council dutifully honoured his wish but has given him no peace since. In 1998, it postponed party elections, the Prime Minister confident enough to remove the ten bonus votes for each nomination for the presidency and deputy presidency. Convinced he had the elections sewn up, he faces considerable dissension within the party over that. Meanwhile, the youth and wanita, taking a leaf from the Supreme Council suggestion -- it became that, after the ground rebelled -- and wants the status quo retained. Now, the former deputy prime minister and UMNO deputy president, Tun Ghafar Baba, rebels. It would be better, he said in an interview with the news agency Bernama, if the posts of president and deputy president are not walkovers, that they would be stronger if endorsed by the members. UMNO's setback in the 29 November general elections can be wiped out only be change, and renewed enthusiasm amongst members. Besides, through party elections, the UMNO spirit could be burnished, he averred. A contest for party positions would "restore the people's confidence in UMNO".

The UMNO Supreme Council misread the mood. UMNO workers in the states are downing tools, the branch and division elections held in an atmosphere of doubt, uncertainty, alienation. The loss of Kelantan and Trengganu and near-loss in Kedah is blamed on the UMNO national leadership. The call for no-contests comes amidst the likelihood of challenge for both posts. Outside of Kuala Lumpur and the major towns, UMNO is in dissarray. The newspapers report on 6,000 branches meeting, a figure which cannot be right if, as UMNO claims, it has 2.7 million members: with a maximum 150 members a division, that would bring it only to 900,000. Never mind. But PAS's successful encroachment into UMNO strongholds during this general elections adds to UMNO nervousness. An UMNO member who votes PAS, by and large, would remain with it. Keadilan, the other Malay-based party vying for the Malay cultural heartland, holds a miniscule but potentially important role as the repository of the UMNO ground unwilling to opt for the theocratic PAS. It is this twin danger that UMNO leaders reckon with without the added aggravation of an election pushed down members' throats.

Tun Ghafar's concern therefore is more than a sick, old man's rantings. He represents, as the Prime Minister does not, UMNO's 1946 heritage, and the natural leader of the party's veteran elders. The younger UMNO member often does not see eye-to-eye with the youth wing and, as Tun Ghafar himself admits, with a contending view to UMNO's status quo. UMNO therefore is stuck in the middle, under pressure from its elders and its young. The youth wing wants its acting leader, Dato' Hishamuddin Hussein Onn, returned unopposed. But he is in the same position as Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi: they were not elected to the positions they aspire to. The wanita call for an unchallenged leader is ignored, with the contest both stormy and fractious: Datin Siti Zahrah , the incumbent, is challenged by her predecessor and her deputy. UMNO, especially in the past 18 years, focussed its future on personalities, indeed on one man. It reflects the Prime Minister's worldview that he, more than Malaysia or UMNO, matters more than them. With power in the hands of one man, as now, the institutions wither. As UMNO threatens to. As Tun Ghafar said: "It does not mean I don't like Mahathir and Dollah Badawi but I love UMNO more." But it is not enough for him alone to think so.

M.G.G. Pillai