August 2, 2015
Malaysia: Cheats and Waivers in UMNO ranks
COMMENT: Former Prime Minister (Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s latest round of griping that UMNO leaders are keeping away after having earlier piled him with their worries about what the party and country were coming to is disingenuous.
Mahathir inculcated precisely this opportunistic – ‘friends in fair weather, strangers in foul’ – behaviour. Mahathir spoke of this turn in the attitude of UMNO leaders at a book launch ceremony yesterday.
He said they had gone from being complainants to the former Prime Minister about the administration of the current one, Najib Abdul Razak, to keep-away types keen to avoid the wrath of their present boss who is reputedly in high dudgeon about waverers in the government’s ranks.
The complained-about change in the attitude of the current set of UMNO leaders is not something that should surprise Mahathir: he helped foster the phenomenon. Mahathir’s loyal lieutenant, Sanusi Junid, once told an Umno general assembly of how Dr Mahathir’s wife, (Tun) Dr Siti Hasmah, complained to him that no UMNO leader of import had come to see her husband in the immediate prelude to the April 24, 1987 elective general assembly of UMNO.
Siti Hasmah must have noted her spouse’s loneliness and went to commiserate with Sanusi.
The 1987 UMNO General Assembly was a momentous one that saw contests for the top posts.
Mahathir was challenged for the presidency by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Ghafar Baba, Mahathir’s handpicked replacement of Musa Hitam for deputy prime minister, contested incumbent Musa for the party No 2 post.
It was an intensely fought battle that was run to the wire. The party was split right down the middle as a consequence of Musa resigning from Mahathir’s administration in 1986.
The cabinet had several sympathisers of the Razaleigh-Musa combo formed to fight Mahathir at the party polls in 1987.
Mahathir must have cut a lonely figure in the final days to the vote on the Friday opening of the presidential address on April 24, followed by balloting by the delegates.
Hearing of his boss’ lonely plight from Siti Hasmah, Sanusi hurried to Mahathir’s side, presumably to boost his spirits and prop up the mood.
Years later, Siti Hasmah would reciprocate Sanusi’s solicitude for his boss’ travails by writing a letter to dissuade an Anwar Ibrahim ally, Bakar Said, from contesting Sanusi for the UMNO Langkawi division chairman’s post. An unpopular Sanusi needed the chairman’s post if only to shore up his flagging position as Kedah Menteri Besar. The letter did not do the trick like the tonic of Sanusi’s company apparently did for Mahathir’s spirits in late April, 1987.
In the event, Mahathir won by a razor-thin margin and proceeded to behave as if the slimness of his majority did not matter. He was going to wield the axe and out of the cabinet went all the supporters of the Razaleigh-Musa combo.
Stacking cabinet with toadies
Najib, in an eleventh-hour switch of support from the Razaleigh-Musa team to Mahathir’s side, on the guarantee by the vacating Anwar Ibrahim that he would be the next UMNO Youth Chief, secured his place in the Mahathir line-up.
Now Najib is emulating Mahathir in stacking his just-reshuffled cabinet with toadies and journeymen.
When Mahathir did the same after the party election in 1987, he quickly gravitated from being the leader who was avoided to being the one courted. His tactic of rigging the rewards system to deal with supporters and those who disliked his style ensured that the ensuing generation of Umno leaders would be distinguished only by their ability to mime the President’s line.
Now for Mahathir to lament the fecklessness of the current set of UMNO leaders in complaining about the present Umno leader when the pressure is not there and then melting away when the heat is on is disingenuous. It’s like the stable-hand trying to close the door after the horses have bolted the barn.
Mahathir would have obtained a premonitory warning of this attitude of the current set of UMNO leaders from the episode a few months back when Parliament speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia told him that he had resigned. Mahathir proceeded to give public vent to Pandikar’s démarche to him.
Mahathir was made to feel silly when it transpired that Pandikar had complained about his impotence and the lack of perquisites for his position to sundry BN bigwigs but had not actually quit the speaker’s job.Mahathir ticked off Pandikar for his pussyfooting. The episode should have given Mahathir a premonitory twinge.
It is said when the going gets tough, the tough get going. The latter are not to be found in the current UMNO set of place-and-journeymen.
TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. A sobering discovery has been that those who protest the loudest tend to replicate the faults they revile in others.