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MGG: Indera Kayangan may determine fate of a distant mentri besar
By M.G.G. Pillai

7/1/2002 9:09 pm Mon

The Indera Kayangan by-election in Perlis on 19 January should be important only if the National Front loses. Nothing I have seen or heard suggest it would. But it is more. All the leaders, in government and opposition, can hope for is a superficial peace to tide them through the campaign. The MCA is split and the Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, had to know the two rival chieftains -- the president, Dato' Seri Ling Liong Sik, and the deputy president, Dato' Seri Lim Ah Lek -- into a barely sustainable and superficial peace for the campaign. It would split open the minute after polling closes.

The UMNO is so out of touch with its constituency but the opposition is so hopelessly divided that that would not matter. The DAP, for instance, threatens to sack those who campaign. In other words, it needs a byelection to show how autocratic and irrelevant political parties have become. And worse, how easily the National Front sets the agenda for all political parties to follow, like sheep. The Parti Keadilan Negara will field a candidate for the byelection caused when the sitting member, from the MCA, died of cancer. The opposition does not have a policy and runs headless into battle. If it had, it would mount a tough campaign but just enough for the BN to win: with an election due in a year, it is pyrrhic opposition victory. A BN win would lull it into further complacency. But strategy, sometimes even tactics, is not an opposition speciality.

But the likely BN victory causes shivers in distant UMNO-controlled state capitals. The mentri besar of Johore, Dato' Ghani Othman, in tense and nervous when he meets even old friends. He has reason to. He has another now: he could lose his position over the hundreds of million ringgit invested in non-existant or questionable overseas projects. The mentri besar of Pahang, Dato' Adnan Yaakub, rushes hither and thither amidst UMNO-PAS tussles, and the prospect of several byelections, bother him no end. But the mentri besar most at risk is of Selangor, Dato' Seri Mohd Khir Toyo.

UMNO leaders are convinced that if the MCA retains Indera Kayangan, Dr Mahathir would remove Dr Khir. In two short years he transformed himself into an insufferable and arrogant state UMNO leader with tawdry morals. He proved that power brings its own equation, and the lure of quick wealth with it, that he rose to unimagined heights only to be seduced into the gutter. He is the most blatant example of a mentri besar who can pull the party down in a general election. But others are as guilty and escape because they are power brokers in their own right, and Dr Mahathir, with one battle royale threatening to sink him, has lost the appetite for another, unless he is the victor even before he starts.

Recent Selangor mentris besar went out in a cloud. Dr Khir's precedessor, Dato' Seri Abu Hassan Omar, went out in a cloud for his unusual marital arrangements, and whose predecessor, Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mohamed, when caught in Australia with a shopping bag full -- RM2.5 million worth -- of foreign currency. Dr Khir, a mild-mannered dentist and just elected to the state assembly, was chosen because Dr Mahathir considered none from the state executive council suitable or, not to put a fine point to it, clean. How he came upon Dr Khir reflects how the man is so out of touch with reality that he has to depend on the say so of those close to him. Dr Khir is close to a bin Mahathir.

Now he cannot get rid of him quickly enough. And so he would. Though how is what matters. He could wait until the next general election, most likely within the next year, but that may be too long. One suggestion making the rounds is a by-election that would ensue when a state assemblymen, most likely Dr Abu Hassan Omar, would resign his seat, and the deputy minister of finance, Dr Shafee Sallah, contest it and be mentri besar if, as expected, he is returned. It does look far-fetched. But politics is the art of the possible and not probable. One which Dr Mahathir not only too well, but practices it as well.

M.G.G. Pillai