NST : Staying the course to counter the attack
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- Date: Fri, 23 May 2008 13:16:00 +0800
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New Straits Times
23 May 2008
Staying the course to counter the attack
ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR
Now that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has opted to leave Umno, his attacks,
though expected to be unrelenting, could help consolidate the party
leadership, writes ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR
THE storm has not abated. There will be more attacks on Umno's
leadership from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose name was officially
struck off the party's membership roll on Wednesday.
One salvo came as early as 6.54am -- just six hours after the Umno
supreme council accepted his resignation.
The former Umno president is in Japan, but used his blog to chide two
senior Umno politicians for their comments on his leaving Umno.
The targets were his former deputy, Tun Musa Hitam, and supreme
council member Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad, who has always spoken in
support of the current administration of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad
Expect more to come from the 82-year-old when he returns from Japan,
where he is participating in a dialogue at the Nihon Keizai Shimbun
14th Annual Conference on the Future of Asia. Dr Mahathir is also
scheduled to address the Japan Foreign Correspondents' Club in the
Japanese capital today.
The man who rebuilt Umno after it was declared illegal by the courts
20 years ago has chosen to fight his cause from outside. This means he
will use whatever platform he has to get his message across.
While Dr Mahathir's decision to quit may be personal, its consequences
are widely seen as detrimental to Umno's stability.
Dr Mahathir cannot be expected to remain a passive observer in the
months leading to the Umno elections, as his attacks can make it
easier for Abdullah's rivals, particularly Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah,
who is eyeing the party presidency, to launch a challenge against
Abdullah and further destabilise Umno and Barisan Nasional.
It can also work the other way, however, providing an opportunity for
Abdullah to consolidate party loyalists now that the "thorn in the
flesh", as Musa put it, is out.
"Umno is a brand name and therefore, it can be rehabilitated," says
Monash University's Professor James Chin.
"There will always be a place for Umno in the country, but what type
of Umno are we looking at? Umno as a nationalist/Islamist party or
There is only room from Umno and Pas where Malay politics is
concerned. Those who consider themselves nationalists will go with
Umno, while those who are bent towards religion will choose Pas with
its Islamic fundamentals.
During his era, Dr Mahathir too played the Islamic card, branding
Malaysia as an Islamic country partly to halt Malays shifting support
to Islamist Pas. Abdullah repackaged it in the form of Islam Hadhari.
As the issue now is about championing the Malay race, observers are
not ruling out the former prime minister turning to Pas to fight his
cause -- a path he had taken before, when he was outside Umno after
being expelled by Tunku Abdul Rahman.
It is unlikely that Dr Mahathir will join Pas, as he is known to be
very committed to Umno's struggle. But there is nothing to stop him
from using Pas' platform to get his message across.
Why, for instance, did Dr Mahathir turn to Kedah Menteri Besar Azizan
Razak to pour out his frustrations over Abdullah's administration
after he announced he was quitting Umno? He had sought a meeting with
Azizan before he left for Kuala Lumpur after dropping the bombshell in
Alor Star on Monday, but the Pas leader was otherwise engaged.
A meeting did take place the next day, over dinner at Dr Mahathir's
residence at The Mines, as Azizan was in Kuala Lumpur for an
engagement on Wednesday. It could well have been just a meeting of old
friends, as both Dr Mahathir and Azizan have been Kedah elected
representatives for a long time.
Azizan was also a patient of Dr Mahathir at the latter's Maha Klinik
in Alor Star.
The Pas leader is tight-lipped over what was discussed between them,
other than to say: "He spoke about Abdullah not doing enough for Kedah
and discussed the development of Langkawi."
Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and Parti Keadilan Rakyat
president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail are now friendlier as
well, welcoming the party-less Dr Mahathir to their side.
"He's a man of conviction," says party veteran Datuk Hassan Harun, who
does not agree with Dr Mahathir's decision to quit Umno.
"I do not rule out a scenario of him making use of any platform
available, now that he is no longer in Umno."
Professor Mohamed Mustafa Ishak opines that Dr Mahathir would
capitalise on every opportunity to speak his mind -- even on a Pas
"Umno leaders must also moderate their statements," he warns. "Wrong
choices can create more tension among Dr Mahathir's supporters and
land Umno in further crisis."
Dr Mahathir took Umno leaders, including Abdullah, by surprise with
his decision to quit the party.
The four-hour Umno supreme council meeting chaired by Abdullah on
Wednesday night, though accepting Dr Mahathir's resignation, voiced
the hope that he would one day have a change of heart and rejoin the
Like many other observers, Hassan, Mustafa and Chin do not see Umno
members following Dr Mahathir en masse, as nothing is better than
fighting for a common cause from within.
At least for now, none of Umno's ministers, deputy ministers, menteris
besar, state liaison chiefs and elected representatives appear
interested in heeding Dr Mahathir's call to quit the party and force
It is also possible that the former premier may suffer the fate of his
predecessors, whose voices were lost when they were no longer in
With all due respect, the Tunku is only remembered by many when the
country celebrates Merdeka. What he and his successors did and said in
the past have been largely forgotten.
What is more important, Chin says, is coming up with a master plan to
rehabilitate Umno -- and fast.
Mustafa agrees: "Members are waiting to know what Umno plans to do to
revive and rebuild. This will build the confidence of members."
But should Dr Mahathir's call for members at all levels to quit gain
traction, observers say the only option for Abdullah would be to call
for a snap election and get a fresh mandate.
Many in Umno and BN do not want this because of political instability
on the ground.
The option for Umno members, therefore, would be to support efforts to
rehabilitate the party.
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