Sunday, 7 November 2010

UMNO's "Nowhere Man" Getting Somewhere?

In the wise words of Forrest Gump's mother, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." That seems to be right about Tengku Razaleigh these days. The same can be said about alternative media in this country.

After the BN Galas victory, TRH according to the Malaysian Insider is set to continue his fate as the "Nowhere Man" of UMNO while The Malaysia Chronicle says othewise. I have in the past blogged about TRH more in hope that he will be the country's interim PM towards REAL reform. At the time TRH seemed to be "between a rock and a hard place" with few acceptable options but to be a voice of reason in the UMNO wilderness while side-stepping accusations of being an Opposition collaborator. The following Malaysian Insider view would have been correct then.

Galas’ clear loser — Ku Li — The Malaysian Insider November 04, 2010

Barisan Nasional (BN) regained the Galas state seat today.

PAS lost the seat it won in Election 2008 when the refrain “Anything But Umno (ABU)” was in the air. Yet, the one clear loser in BN’s victory in Galas will be Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the longest-serving MP, since 1969, before even BN was formed in 1974.

The Kelantan prince, a former Umno vice-president and finance minister, now goes back to being a nobody in Umno, as he has been despite attempting to go for the party presidency since rejoining in 1996.

The 73-year-old’s liberal agenda will sound hollow. The politician, popularly known as Ku Li, will be a sitting duck if he even tries to team up with other liberals and contest the next polls.

Umno will slay him, and the constituents he will try and reach out to will have great reservations about a politician who has talked about reform and yet capitulated to flattery from the same people he has assailed for more than 12 months.

How will history judge Tengku Razaleigh? The affable and capable Kelantan prince will be remembered as the man who made strategic mistakes at crucial times.

Be it in 1981, when Ku Li and Tun Musa Hitam fought for the Umno deputy presidency where Musa won with 722 votes to Tengku Razaleigh’s 517.

Tengku Razaleigh blamed himself for taking “a rather passive stance” and not having a campaign strategy.

The same thing happened in 1984. In 1987, Ku Li challenged Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for the presidency while Musa, who joined his team after quitting as deputy prime minister, was challenged by Tun Ghafar Baba. The Kelantan prince’s Team B, as it was called to Dr Mahathir’s Team A, lost.

The party was deregistered the following year but Dr Mahathir, with the help of the late Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat, quickly registered Umno Baru while Ku Li failed to register Umno Malaysia despite having the support of two former presidents, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussein Onn.

Ku Li’s mistake was then to register Semangat 46, which teamed up with PAS for the 1990 and 1995 general elections. It lost traction and in 1996, Ku Li joined Umno Baru.

Bereft of the support he had in the 1970s where he founded Petronas and was the architect of BN’s victory in Kelantan in the 1978 general election, Tengku Razaleigh has remained in the shadows of Umno history since then.

The Kelantan prince has shown a distaste for the rough and tumble ways of Malaysian politics, preferring to be above the fray and being nice to all.

He was nice to Umno for the Galas by-election. And it won in what is seen as a turning point in BN’s fortunes since the massive defeat in Election 2008 which saw the coalition lose four states and its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority.

But Ku Li, the politician prince who insists that Kelantan is eligible for oil royalty and that Malaysia should return to the rule of law practised by Tunku Abdul Rahman, is just another man who was seduced by Umno’s sweet talk to help defend the grand old party.

Like a loyal member who he has always stressed that he was, Tengku Razaleigh has done his job. And is most likely not necessary any more unless Umno needs to show its moderate and liberal face. Umno/BN won. Ku Li lost. And his cause is just a memory.


However, this commentary by Wong Choon Mei of the Malaysia Chronicle is the chocolate that I like. But is TRH too old and too late?

A credible savior for Umno emerges at last

Ku Li, Muhyiddin - new dynamics in the 2011 Umno power equation
Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

Intrigue ever lurking in the unruly house of Umno has gone into overdrive again. This time, the catalyst is a ‘new-old’ face – Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. Thanks to the Galas by-election victory, a rejuvenated Ku Li is now regarded by many in Umno as the best and most credible alternative to scandal-plagued president Najib Razak and his racism-tainted deputy Muhyiddin Yassin.

“Both Najib and Muhyiddin are unable to guide Umno away from implosion and irrelevance. Both men lack imagination and flair of their own - they borrow from Dr Mahathir and lean on his strength. But Umno leaders are not that dumb, they know what worked in Mahathir’s time will not last long in the current century. The problem is, who other than Najib and Muhyiddin,” an Umno watcher told Malaysia Chronicle.

“Ku Li was by-passed in 2009 Umno election. He was seen as faded and too old, but now he has shown what he can do and the remarkable thing is that he did it without the usual Umno bombast and boasting. I think when the result was announced, Umno was even more shocked by the winning majority than PAS.”

Rush to grab the glory

The 73-year old Ku Li did indeed achieve a feat, wresting back the state seat from Umno’s arch rival PAS with relative ease. His recommended candidate won the seat with a 1,190 majority which was equivalent to a swing of 1,836 votes as PAS had won the seat with 646-margin in 2008.

Immediately after the results, Muhyiddin was quick to credit Najib and his 1Malaysia plan for the win. Little mention was made of Ku Li, although when Umno wanted to secure his services as campaign director, Muhyiddin had thought of sending a contingent of leaders to welcome Ku Li's return from an overseas trip at the airport.

Muhyiddin, who is also deputy prime minister, was also quick to ride on the glory of the twin by-elections victories. BN had also won a parliamentary seat in Batu Sapi, Sabah on the same day.

So carried away by his perceived political momentum, the DPM actually ignored the calls for helps from flood victims in Kedah. Instead, he opted to fire a salvo at the Pakatan Rakyat state government, delaying and questioning for the sake of political gamesmanship rather than order federal agencies to send aid and relief.

“He put the flood issue aside and went on his Deepavali rounds so that he could bask in the glory of the by-election wins especially when Najib was in hospital," said the Umno watcher.

"Even though, Muhyiddin was savvy enough to play the role of loyal deputy and dedicated the victories to Najib, it was obvious he also took a lot of credit for himself and shut off Ku Li completely. To him, Najib is the easier rival to defeat than Razaleigh."

A credible alternative to Najib's bogus 1Malaysia

Meanwhile, despite being in hospital for chicken pox, Najib appeared to have caught on to what was happening while he was indisposed.

Not to be outdone, his mainstream media reported that he ordered from his "hospital bed" immediate assistance for Kedah flood victims. Pundits slammed the dramatic move as an apparent bid to go one up on his deputy and make a hero of himself.

As for Ku Li, some of Najib's-controlled media had in the aftermath of the Galas by-election done a hatchet job on the Kelantan prince, accusing him of selling out on his liberal views for sake of pleasing Umno warlords.

Their aim was simple - to destroy Ku Li's image as a progressive and multi-racial leader, so as to nip in the bud competition with Najib's 1Malaysia.

But neither are Malaysians or Umno members so easily fooled. If in 2009, Ku Li was seen as a blast from the past, he is now increasingly seen as the savior Umno needs. His strengths include his ability to communicate with the top PAS, PKR and DAP leadership, his perceived fairness to all races and his personal honesty. Sad to say, neither Najib nor Muhyiddin are seen to possess these qualities.

Who will Mahathir back

The biggest stumbling block for Ku Li in Umno remains former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. In 1987, Ku Li challenged Mahathir for the Umno presidency, but lost after a controversial vote-count.

Like Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, he is feared by Mahathir. So far in Umno's history, only Ku Li and Anwar possess enough charisma to thwart Mahathir’s ham-fisted and oppressive tactics.

“This is the latest game in Umno and it will slowly unfold until the party's internal elections next year. We all know Muhyiddin will challenge Najib. Now it will be a three-cornered fight. And even though Mahathir is powerful, he may not be able to convince warlords to back either Najib or Muhyiddin now that they know Ku Li is a viable alternative," said the Umno watcher.

"It no longer matters who Mahathir will back - whether Najib or Muhyiddin. But it does not matter because both are weak leaders and cannot take Umno forward. So why would the warlords follow whom Mahathir chooses and take the crumbs when they can support Ku Li and sup from the main table."

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