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STS: Growing Calls In Umno for Change in Leadership Style
By Brendan Pereira

16/12/2000 11:51 am Sat

From The Singapore Straits Times
15th December 2000

Growing calls in Umno for change in leadership style

Criticism of Mahathir's style is heard increasingly in the open as frustration surfaces, a year after the losses suffered in the last general election


KUALA LUMPUR - Something unusual is happening on the political front in Malaysia - it is open season against Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

And the arrows are being fired by some of his partymen.

Make no mistake. This is not a revolt against the leader of Malaysia for the past 19 years.

But it is significant. It is ventilation of frustration that has been percolating within the hearts of Umno soldiers for some time now.

The helplessness was evident in the November 1999 elections when a resurgent opposition attacked Umno members on a clutch of issues - cronyism, nepotism, corruption and injustice towards Anwar Ibrahim.

The troops on the ground fought back and, in many cases, without ammunition.

They consoled themselves, believing that the defensive mode they were in was temporary.

In no time, the party would be reformed and Umno would be embraced once again by the Malay community.

One year has passed but the situation on the ground has remained precarious.

During the recent by-election in Lunas, Kedah province, the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition lost a seat it had held since independence.

Once again Umno could not carry the Malay vote. Once again party members felt under siege.

Only now frustration has given way to despondency.

That despondency came through during last Thursday's Umno Youth executive council meeting.

As members sought answers for the movement's malaise and the by-election defeat in Lunas, one council member said that Dr Mahathir had to shoulder some blame for the party's state of affairs.

The Malaysian leader, he noted, had repeatedly spoken about the infusion of new talent.

Yet, he ignored the list of youth candidates suggested by the movement before the November 1999 general election and fielded the same old faces.

Seated on his right was Mr Mokhzani Mahathir, the son of Dr Mahathir and treasurer of Umno Youth.

At the meeting, Umno Youth chief Datuk Hishammuddin Tun Hussein announced that time had come for the wing to make it voice heard and speak up against the leadership, if necessary.

His deputy, Datuk Aziz Sheikh Fadzir, said at a press conference: 'The era of singing to the tune of the leadership is over. For two-and-a-half years we have controlled ourselves and not said what we should have.'

A day later, Datuk Shahrir Samad, an Umno Supreme Council member and resident in-house critic, blamed 'the character of our leader Dr Mahathir' for the defeat in the Lunas by-election and described him as 'a sulking old man'.

At the Parliament canteen, a veteran Umno MP is conducting a tutorial in Mahathir 101 - blaming the PM for all the problems that the party is facing.

He sounds bitter, and makes no attempt to disguise the venom.

To be sure, neither he nor others who have openly criticised the Malaysian leader are calling for him to step down.

They still believe the 75-year-old politician is the only one who can set the tone for change and resurrect the party.

All they want is change: a change in how the government implements its privatisation policy and how the leadership deals with non-performing politicians.

More importantly, a change in the style of the leadership.