Excerpts: Read here for more
Question: Can Umno adapt to the new Malaysian political landscape and make REFORM its mantra?
The coalition partners (MCA, MIC and Gerakan) got a partial answer this week with:
- The return of Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib to the cabinet as the Rural Development Minister and
- Tengku Adnan Mansor’s appointment as the secretary-general of Umno and the Barisan Nasional.
Noted Dr Mansor Mohd Noor, a political analyst:
“... Umno has to realise that it is NO longer sufficient to think about what Umno members feel about their leaders.
We have to win over YOUNGER voters who have a DIFFERENT value system."
“Umno has always had its OWN value system.
It is something that is not always hinged on character and integrity.
(It is hinged )on the patronage system and the person’s utility to the UMNO. The party still has a FEUDAL mentality."
The late Zakaria Deros
(It is this UMNO's feudal mentality that) allowed UMNO to embrace the late Zakaria Deros, the warlord in Klang who attracted derision outside the party for building a palatial mansion in the midst of a squatter colony without any approvals.
When he was let off without even a token fine, Umno members did NOT bat an eyelid. They pointed out that he was a loyal party worker – the type who rented an ambulance to ferry the disabled to vote for BN in the Ijok by-election last year and the type who could bring out 10,000 party faithfuls to the street.
Never mind that many Malaysians viewed the man as the typical Umno politician they detested – arrogant and seemingly above the law.
The MCA believed that the Chinese electorate would punish them for the actions of Umno politicians like Zakaria Deros. They were right.
Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang, Lim Guan Eng and others made Zakaria a staple of their stump speeches.
Still, Umno did NOT reject him.
When he died a few days after the elections, some 5,000 people visited his home to pay their respects. Among them, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his deputy, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Zakaria was held up as a solid party man, a role model of sorts.
Non-party members could only shake their heads in amazement and wonder how someone who did not pay land assessment for 12 years could be held up as a role model.
Muhammad Muhammad Taib
Many of them revisited this question this week when former Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib was appointed Rural Development Minister.
How can a politician who was caught for not declaring several million ringgit in cash by Australian authorities in 1996 find himself back in the cabinet?
Abdullah and others in Umno say that the former school teacher has paid his dues – he gave up his positions in the government and party, kept clear of any controversy and stayed loyal to the party.
Those familiar with the thinking in government circles say the Umno rank-and-file would not have allowed Abdullah to make the sweeping changes to the cabinet that he wanted – such as not naming any parliamentary secretaries, dropping Rafidah Aziz and appointing Amirsham Aziz and Zaid Ibrahim as senators – if they sensed their interests were being marginalised.
A government official said:
“Mat Taib is very popular with the party grassroots. His appointment has gone down well with them.
Changes will only be possible if the party flank feels a certain comfort level."
Tengku Adnan Mansor
Abdullah is hopeful that the party’s 210 divisions will find a high comfort level with Tengku Adnan Mansor as the party-secretary-general.And the MCA, Gerakan and even some component parties in Sarawak will have a tough time talking about reforms and changes, if people with baggage are still in positions of power.
In Umno, he is respected as a warlord, someone who can get things done.
The division chiefs say that if he were the secretary-general in the run-up to the polls, funds, banners and flags would have reached the ground faster than they did.
But party members also believe that Abdullah gave him the senior role of rebuilding the party to keep him happy.
With rumblings of a revolt by some party leaders like Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Tun Mahathir Mohamad, the party president needs all the strongest men and women at his side.
After dropping Tengku Adnan from the Cabinet, he needed to placate the former Tourism Minister.
Outside UMNO, and in organisations like the Bar Council, this choice borders on the surreal. After all there is more than a good chance that Tengku Adnan will be censured by the Royal Commission on the Judiciary for his role in the V K Lingam judge-fixing scandal.
He may be chastised for being a less than reliable witness during the proceedings. The findings of the commission will tar him for life with many Malaysians.
But in Umno, he will be revered as the secretary-general.
Why? Because the party respects raw power and the ability to use it. Tengku Adnan has both.
The problem is that he will also be the secretary-general of the BN.