2008 in review Pt 4: Umno, PKR and tentativeness

(Four parts : This 4th part looks the Umno nominations and the year end subterfuges)

The final quarter of 2008 was a bit of getting back to old basics, but with a twist.

When Umno elections are around the corner, all party members let go of all other preoccupations and focus on it. A position in the party, gives you political import. It is so vital to political viability that players would give up their place in parliament if it meant keeping your supreme council seat.

Umno cabinet ministers and chief ministers live off the blessings of the prime minister, but as president of the party Abdullah Badawi is the servant of the supreme council.

And it showed when the council met, re-met and met again, until the argument was made clear to the prime minister – they rather have him step down.

With mounting pressure and the threat from the party leaders that he may not get the nominations from the divisions to defend his presidency, the Penang man had no choice but to step down days from the start of the nomination period.

Najib on, Muhyiddin not so sure

He also was quick in making his support for his deputy Najib Abdul Razak clear, and which in large part ensured the clean sweep of the nominations for the Pahang man, bar Gua Musang.

Which means Razaleigh Hamzah can only draw support from his own division and has to retire from being a competitor. A party chairmanship might come his way if he just remains docile to those now going to lead the party.

The deputy presidency was not so direct, and the emergence of two contenders to early favourite Muhyiddin Yassin means that there are no favourites. After a stutter, both Muhammad Muhammad Taib and Ali Rustam got in.

Another three way is in the Umno youth race, and again there are no favourites. Mahathir Mohammed’s proxy candidate, son Mukhriz was ahead then slowed down as darkhorse Khir Toyo slipping to second in the nomination count. Third placed Khairy Jamaluddin will have a pretty steep cliff to climb and avoid falling from as his natural progression is not inevitable anymore.

The vice-presidency gave 7 competitors, but the real shocker and evidence that the party cannot change is the inclusion of both former stripped winner Isa Samad and controversial Rahim Thamby Chik – for his alleged links to intimate relations to a minor.

In Umno, all that matters is patronage and if you fit in with the delegates after you pass the division test. As long as a candidate has made two or three fascist remark or rattled non-Malays, and avoided looking irreligious, no indiscretion in the past of present matters.

Rafidah, oh Rafidah

Rafidah Aziz encapsulates it. In a working democracy, a person linked with inappropriate AP issuances for such a long time, would not have survived. But in Umno senior leadership everyone has a commercial stake, and no one is going to start calling ‘pots’ of others.

People should not imagine the open support for Shahrizat Abdul Jalil while she chooses not to be a candidate, and her final acceptance of the nomination, does not mean a sure outcome.

Rafidah is the favourite because the party still incumbent partial.

The loudness of the Umno leadership underscored the lack of decibels emanating from the PKR headquarters in Tropicana.

Weeks after the failed power usurpation plan (Sept 16) the entire leadership went quiet. There were various accounts for the failure – the Taiwan trip, the threat of violence and an adherence to democratic process – but for the electorate the lack of event will always matter.

The PKR Congress in late November did not shed more light to the situation, and de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim continues to plan, while showing up in court to deal with legal complications.

The attacks on Pakatan did not accelerate as dim global economic outlook started to bite into Malaysia. Mounting unemployment and the shakiness of the financial market gave reason to most citizens to focus closer to their own homes.

The only high point was the continued reduction of oil prices, and by the time the year ended pump-prices were lower than they were when prices were upped on June 4.

However for the most vulnerable in the system – the working class – the commodity price drop was not accompanied by a general price drop in many other essential goods. The inflation was not to reverse.

Cocky Nazri gets away

There were some flinching scenes, like in late November  when parliamentary affairs minister Nazri Abdul Aziz told parliament that he was not beholden to known up to a lie in parliament.

This was to his misinformation in regards to the ex-gratia payment to the victimised judges of the 1988 Judicial crisis.

Even though former law minister Zaid Ibrahim was eventually sacked in December after much ‘chest-beating’ by the conservatives in Umno he did manage to wriggle some reconciliation from the government for what the Mahathir era did.

Of course did not sit well with the old man from Kubang Pasu whose idea of democracy is when ‘everyone agrees he is right’. His discord with the present administrator extended to almost everything government did daily.

Borneo then

The pressure for change in Sarawak seemed like the latest momentum for PKR. The party has started to build an ambitious assault for the state, which is in all truth run by a coalition filled with in-fighting and quite loathing of chief minister Taib Mahmud.

A legacy of hydroelectric dams, vanishing forests connected to the disrespect of Native Customary Rights and an open contempt of the majority Dayak community has made enough people having enough with Taib.

The tribal nature of the state, its vastness and a large war-chest has forfeited all opponents a chance to remove the Taib dynasty. PKR may have inadvertently picked the key to their long term survival by winning the state, or walked into their Alamo. Principles have never won in Sarawak.

In Sabah, the boldness of Upko to force Kadazan issues with their ultimatum to quit the BN if one Sino-Kadazan lady’s citizenship was not sorted gave Badawi a jilt. 2009 will see more direct demands from the Umno state.

Even party strongmen like Bung Radin Mukhtar have asked for the federal government to change or risk losing the state.

As a long but stable December was upon all, the death of Kuala Trengganu MP Razali Ismail gave clear dimension to what will ignite January.

The monsoon and BN’s unwillingness to lose in the final month of a year they have lost more than won, has allowed for a longer lead-up to this latest by-election.

2009 with the caution of economic uncertainty will have less rallies, but the insecurities and trust to a government in times like these will not allow a Najib administration to sit and relax, and have any honeymoon.

The ideas of stable politics are long gone. 2008’s main epitaph is that.

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