August 25, 2013
Politics in the Run-Up to the UMNO Election 2013
by Joceline Tan ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Hari Raya open houses have become venues for UMNO politicians vying for posts in the party election to entertain friends and comrades, to feed them well, be charming and win their support to stay in the game.
DATUK Seri Mohd Ali Rustam was about to sit down for a bite at the Hari Raya open house of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when he saw a reporter approaching the table.
The former Malacca Chief Minister is no longer the media magnet that he used to be but the last few weeks have found reporters making a beeline for him. Every one of them wants to know whether he is going to contest for one of the three vice-president (VP) posts in the UMNO election.
“I will let you know soon,” he said with a big smile.But some reporters can be persistent. As Ali was about to leave, the reporter approached him and said: “Datuk Seri, you need the publicity, I need the story, so it’s best we work together.” He gave another big smile but it was clear that he was taking his time to decide.
Ali is in a dilemma of sorts. Going for the VP post would be a step down of sorts for him. He had been a contender for the deputy president post in the 2009 party election but he was disqualified for money politics mid-way through the campaign.
The man who signs off all his Facebook postings simply as “dar” (Datuk Ali Rustam) is still extremely well-liked in the party. But he turned 64 last Friday, he is no longer the Chief Minister, he lost in the general election and all that has sucked some of the air out of his balloon, so to speak.
Moreover, he had been a VP prior to his disastrous attempt at the Deputy Presidency and it may be tough to convince the party to give him another shot at the VP post.
However, his peer, Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad, is in the race. Isa had won one of the three VP posts in 2009 with the highest number of votes but his victory was shortlived because he was suspended, also for money politics. But unlike Ali, Isa is coming in on a new and powerful platform as FELDA chairman. He has become a household name in the rural heartland.
Isa announced his candidature at the FELDA headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday after launching a body shampoo product amid much fanfare, with soap bubbles floating in the air and confetti raining down on the guests. Reporters joked that it was only during the UMNO election season that a politician could show so much enthusiasm for a bath product.
He was in a good mood and did not get irritated even when reporters asked whether, at 63, he should be giving way to new faces. He said he is a proven party loyalist and was offering the party his experience and commitment.
“Don’t underestimate Isa. He has friends all over,” said Kok Lanas assemblyman Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad. Isa also has a not-so-secret weapon – his politically savvy wife Puan Sri Bibi Sharliza, a former Puteri UMNO politician, who will play a role in his campaign.But the bottom line is that Isa enjoys broad popular appeal and is worth keeping an eye on.
The talk is that the three incumbents, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, have formed some sort of “all for one and one for all” cartel. They put up a big show of unity at Hishammuddin’s Defence Ministry Hari Raya open house on Wednesday, their arms wrapped around each other and grinning as if they had already won.
More names may pop up on nomination day on September 28 to give the incumbents a run for the money.
“I don’t see the adrenaline flowing yet. But this time, you only need one nomination to be a candidate. Who knows, some people may wake up on September 28 and tell themselves, why not?” said former Deputy Defence Minister Datuk Dr Latiff Ahmad.
Or as Isa’s eldest son Najib put it: “It’s something like American Idol. Even those who cannot sing think they can sing. So they join the audition.”Some in the UMNO circuit think the VP level has room for at least one new and young face such as Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir or Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
The pair has potential but they need to prove themselves at what they have been assigned to do before dreaming of the VP post.
Push from Sabah
But an insider said Musa will stay put in the supreme council and the noise coming from the divisions is to send a message to the top UMNO leadership that Musa is “the boss”.
“Let me put it another way – they are telling KL that Shafie must know his place in Sabah,” said the insider.
In short, it is all part of the deep and long-standing rivalry between Musa and Shafie. Basically, the UMNO culture likes to see competition and a good fight at the VP level, otherwise the incumbents will lose touch with the ground and get big-headed.
UMNO elections used to be dominated by those holding government posts as well as those with big war chests. An aspiring candidate had to first lobby for the nominations and after that campaign for votes.
The new election system requires only a single nomination to contest a post and everything after that is in the hands of 146,500 delegates. Alwi reckons that about half of the 25-seat supreme council may comprise new faces this time and he is hoping to be among them.
This will be the second attempt by the Kelantan politician, who is famous for his witty speeches at UMNO general assemblies.
On his first try, when he vied for a supreme council seat, he decided to pull out midway when people started asking him for money. “I don’t have money but I will be giving everyone DVDs of all the speeches I have made at UMNO assemblies. Some of the things I spoke about have become policy, some have not. It is up to them to decide whether I deserve their vote,” he said.
Leaders who lost in the general election will struggle to survive in the supreme council race but younger faces who won and were given government posts, like Urban Well-being, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Rahman Dahlan and Deputy Minister in the PM’s Department Datuk Razali Ibrahim, will have a fighting chance.
Others, like Lanchang assemblyman Datuk Sharkar Samsuddin, have elected to stay out. Some of Sharkar’s supporters had urged him to try out for the supreme council. He was initially open to the idea but changed his mind when he learnt that his deputy division chief Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah intended to defend his supreme council post.
“It’s not nice to have two leaders from one division vying for the supreme council,” said Sharkar who is also a state exco member.
Saifuddin’s defeat in Temerloh in the general election was one of those supreme ironies. The ex-MP is famous for his fashionably liberal and unconventional views but his constituents rejected him for the ultra conservative PAS Youth leader Nasrudin Hasan who is famous for opposing rock concerts and the celebration of Valentine’s Day.
It is a cautionary tale for all UMNO leaders – you can play to the gallery but you should not forget where your core support lies.
Tun Dr Mahathir’s call for talented Malay professionals to move up in the party is finally resonating among UMNO members. He has said this before but after two political tsunamis, it has finally sunk in that they cannot survive a third tsunami unless Umno produces new and credible talent.
They feel this election must show those outside that young and talented leaders have a place in UMNO.Johor UMNO met last week and declared that it supports status quo for the posts of President and Deputy President. “We like to think that Johor leads in UMNO politics. The Mentri Besar wanted to set the tone on the two top posts,” said Dr Latiff who is also deputy Johor UMNO chief.
State UMNO chairman Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin also indicated that Johor will support Hishammuddin in the VP race .Some had felt that Khaled should also go for it but he told the meeting: “Surely I cannot be expected to challenge the incumbent VP from Johor (Hishammuddin). Johor must support Johor.”
Johor’s new Mentri Besar spoke like a gentleman and everyone in the room gave him a round of applause. Khaled is also conscious of the new political landscape in Johor. He saw how badly the Chinese treated his predecessor Dato’ Ghani Othman despite all that Ghani had done for the state. UMNO is the mainstay of the state government and he needs to acknowledge that on the ground.
“He needs to take good care of those who helped return the Barisan Nasional to power. That’s why he’s not going for the supreme council. Johor is his top priority and he cannot spare much time on national politics,” said Dr Latiff.
The UMNO election is like a fleet of cars making the balik kampung journey. All the drivers want to drive properly and get there safely. But some of them want to arrive first, so they start speeding and that’s when the trouble begins.
But the important thing, they say, is that everyone must arrive at the same kampung at the end of the day.