Commentary Politics

Old hands dominate Umno election list

(Clockwise from left) -- Ku Li, Zahid and Khairy

(Clockwise from left) -- Ku Li, Zahid and Khairy

Written by Aziz Hassan

June 22, 2018.

Recollections & Reflections – A commentary

THERE’S a record number of candidates, that’s for sure, but with the party still licking its wounds from being ousted some weeks ago as the only government Malaysia had known for 61 years, there is nothing as near as the kind of build-up in the press over the impending Umno elections on June 30 like before. More like coverage to fill in the blanks, if you like.

The talk is that the party should give more opportunities for younger members to assume the positions of leadership as it moves forward and try to regain lost ground, at the very least, if not a return to power. But for delegates and grassroots members to be able to consider this option, those younger must first put up their hands as candidates. How can you vote one in when he’s not a candidate?

But the reality though is that it is not as if every younger candidate will be voted in, unless that person is seen to have the credentials, especially leadership qualities. This is a truly tough challenge, given how little space Umno had given to the young in a leadership role overall, save for the Youth and Puteri branches.

Even if those who vote decide to pass on the baton of leadership to the young, the reality is that because the top leadership had always been filled by the seniors, one cannot immediately come up with any potential names, save for a certain Khairy Jamaluddin. He has the confidence and stature but in the world of Malaysian politics that can be so unscrupulous, unsympathetic and unforgiving, Khairy appears to be not fully streetwise and would need the tutelage of a senior statesman for about 5 or 6 years.

For the first time in Umno’s history, there will be five contestants for the post of president, including a deputy president who’s fulfilling the duties of the president who quit soon after the former ruling coalition’s May 9 general elections defeat. The official list of candidates shows 106 aiming to be voted in as supreme council members, with many comprising those who have been around for years. A maverick on the run from the police is hoping to become Youth chief!

Umno needs guidance from an older statesman

Herein comes the elder statesman, who’s not only a former Umno vice-president but also a finance minister when Tun Hussein Onn was the country’s third prime minister and then moved to another portfolio in 1983 by then prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, now Tun.

At 81 Kelantan prince Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, better known as Ku Li, is almost two decades older than the next oldest – deputy president Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi.

The party needs someone like Ku Li primarily because the other side is being led by a former PM and former Umno president Mahathir, the larger than life politician who has made a dramatic comeback at almost 93 years old, a man who many Malaysians think has changed and ready for redemption but someone who others had been confrontational with, including Ku Li, insist is the same old Mahathir who is only wearing new clothes.

In some regards you can’t disagree with that, especially relating to some of Mahathir’s decisions and remarks since assuming the prime ministership for the second time after May 9.

That he has agreed with many of the reforms being considered comes with the territory, of being the chairman of a four-party coalition in which three strongly advocated during their election campaigns the need for reforms. They would not have embraced him if Mahathir had decided to go another way, synonymous with his first rule as PM for 22 years until 1993.

Umno needs someone who is not intimidated by Mahathir, even someone with a past but who also knows about Mahathir’s past. In Ku Li there is someone Mahathir simply cannot swat off like he would a fly and much as Khairy is not easily shaken, Mahathir is much too good for him politically and has shown the tendency to look down on KJ and treat him like a young upstart who earned whatever limited stripes he has only from being given a jump start when his father-in-law Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was PM to the extent that he was at one time labelled as the country’s most powerful 28-year-old.

Some may want Zahid to be confirmed as president, having been the deputy to Datuk Seri Najib Razak, but he has his limitations. In the last six weeks or so Zahid had time to show what he was made of but unfortunately he failed to seize the moment to leave Umno in a limbo vis-à-vis its current position as a party in the opposition. He is now embroiled in a spat over his meeting with Mahathir, after which Mahathir stated that Zahid had expressed his support for the Pakatan Harapan government and had asked Mahathir’s views on how to rebrand Umno. Zahid has denied this but that it had taken him almost two weeks doesn’t leave him with many admirers. One thinks that he has made this denial only because Ku Li had remarked that he would not go crawling to Mahathir and also because Zahid finds himself in a position of being challenged to be the Umno number one.

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About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.