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MGG: The UMNO battle begins anew with treachery abound
By M.G.G. Pillai

30/1/2002 12:44 pm Wed

At the height of the Indera Kayangan byelections in Perlis, two prominent UMNO leaders slipped across the border into Haadyai not for the constitutional the area is well known for, but for a political tete-a-tete. The Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, must be worried at this, by no means isolated, since he is firm in his mind that at 76, he is good for another decade in office. Any one who questioned it in public must be prepared to be hounded out of office, though not to the extent of his former deputy prime minister. It is in this connexion the reported threat to kill Dr Mahathir and his heir presumptive, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and the Sauk affair must be viewed. Both reflect UMNO's uncertainty of the future. The mainstream newspapers give the impression of UMNO solidity, but the more they emphasise it, the weaker it actually is. Since there is no critical survey of political developments, the flaws seep through so clearly and, often, dramatically.

So, a week after the National Front (BN) was returned in Indera Kayangan, the opposition is still attacked for a dirty campaign. for which UMNO, through its youth and Puteri wings, and BN must take full responsibility. This included an attempt to run down the Keadilan president, Datin Seri Wan Azizah Ismail, and forcing an accident of her four-wheeler. The victory disappeared from the public radar screens two days after, but UMNO still harps on the dirty tactics. In Indera Kayangan, the BN, not the opposition, restricted the vote. The BN it was which prevented the opposition from campaigning in villages, provided RM100 for every potential Haj pilgrim in Indera Kayangan, had hampers aplenty for those who wanted it.

The mentri besar, Dato' Seri Shahidan Kassim, is so injured by the political attacks that he threatens to sue one Keadilan man for tens of millions of ringgit for defamation. All these reflect internal uncertainties. The BN had to win: too many reputations and political careers are at stake if it had lost, though the huge MCA win only raised more doubts about the political future of its president, Dato' Seri Ling Liong Sik: it now appears it awoke a sleeping giant; its deputy president, Dato' Seri Lim Ah Lek, could, it now appears, challenge him for the presidency. If he does, Dr Ling is even more on the defensive.

What ought then to have settled in BN is not. UMNO still struggles for a role, with PAS and Keadilan taking steps which spell danger. PAS is forced to change. It now promises women candidates in future elections. It would run into heavy flak. But it is enough to unnerve UMNO. Its vice president, Tan Sri Muhiyuddin Yassin, says in Johore Bahru it is a ploy to lure women voters. The gall of this man is astonishing. He believes women are so naive that they could be led by such "cheap" tricks, which he insists it is. He is worried with something more serious: UMNO is disbelieved. It is heavily involved in corruption, but it insists it fights it. It promises restraint in theory but is profligate in practice. It is also a sign that UMNO and BN cannot take advantage of Dr Mahathir's categorisation of PAS as a Taliban front.

It insists it runs the government prudently, yet its former treasurer has yet to provide a balance sheet of its accounts: when he was pressured to, he took two months' leave and resigned. But the problem is alive, and raises questions from UMNO members its leaders cannot answer. Especially when this man now pulls the strings behind the scenes. Some leaders are fed up with all this. The one man who can sort it out is in jail. UMNO leaders now accept the longer he is there, the more problematical the UMNO turnaround. But releasing it creates its own problems: the rumoured murder plot, the Grik gun robbery and the Haadyai meeting are linked to this uncertainty.

Malay politics, at the best of times, is convoluted, devious, treacherous, but it has a method in its execution. Running through all these developments is a struggle to keep it within the narrow confines of its feudal practices. The Malay Annals reveals it accurately than the Malaysian newspapers. The battle here is between those who believe the feudal leader is right even if he is wrong and those who believe it is incumbent on even the feudal leader's close aides to raise the banner of revolt if they find the system is devalued.

This, in local political parlance, is the epic battle between Hang Jebat and Hang Tuah, between right and wrong, between justice and injustice. It threatened the integrity of the Malay state then. As it does now. UMNO leaders plot, stay out of trouble, or organise their supporters to be ready to jump on to the winning side. In other words, UMNO members is forced to fight for his place. The myriad conspiracies make his future uncertain at every level. A branch UMNO leader today is unsure of re-election even after he packs the meeting with his men. So, is it any wonder even Dr Mahathir and Dato' Seri Abdullah see not shadows but conspiractors everywhere.

M.G.G. Pillai