Friday, October 31, 2008

Razak Baginda freed - but political trial continues...

Political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda walked out a free man today. He has now been cleared from the charge of abetting in the murder of Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu. The two policemen - UTK officers Kpl Sirul Azhar Umar and Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri have now been ordered to enter their defence. In short, the prosecution failed to prove a case against Razak Baginda but the case against the two UTK men would proceed. But as the legal battle continues, so would the political battle. The allegations against Najib Tun Razak, as the Prime Minister in waiting, can be expected to intensify. The police have cleared him of any involvement; in parliament and outside parliament, the DPM has said that he did not know nor has met the woman; he has even "bersumpah" at a mosque, at meetings with Umno leaders and even during a ceramah - but the accusations, if not perceptions, would continue. It is not just a legal battle but a political fight, that's the reality. It has not helped that a lot of questions have remained unanswered. The court decision to acquit Razak Baginda could well provide fresh ammunition to the nemesis of Najib to attack him but there could also be more suits, if the critics are not careful with their choice of words on today's judgement.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jalan Petaling - Chinatown or Banglatown?

Just take a walk along Jalan Petaling. It used to be a real Chinatown but not anymore. There are now more Bangladeshis, Indonesians and other foreigners than Malaysians. It's the same with Chow Kit where the foreigners have displaced the Malays in the area. In Jalan Petaling, the owners of these stalls seems to be more contented letting their foreign workers run their businesses. So when foreign tourists visit these stalls, all they see are foreigners selling these faked goods. Where are the Malaysians? Maybe the food sellers are still Malaysians but surely these foreigners have outnumbered the locals. Now that there is an application by Pengasih, a non-profit organisation that runs a drug rehabilitation programme, for additional stalls in Jalan Petaling, these traders have suddenly surfaced, grumbling and complaining. Their argument doesn't seem very convincing. What's wrong with letting Pengasih be a part of Jalan Petaling? In fact, every pasar malam in the city should keep a spot for NGOs for the disabled, single mothers and the less privileged to dabble in small businesses instead of relying on handouts. They should have realised long ago that Chinatown has become Banglatown. They should not blame anyone except themselves for losing that identity. Except for the arch, the identity of Jalan Petaling as Chinatown has disappeared. Meanwhile, City Hall has finally announced officially that Jalan Alor would stick to its identity - and name. It would be taking down the Jalan Kejora road sign soon. Thanks to Federal Territories Minister Zulhasnan Rafique for stepping in and putting things right.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The sad story of Malaysia

In the United States and the world, for that matter, history is about to be created. A black man is set to be elected as the next President of the United States. It has taken a long time but a gigantic change is in the air. In fact, for Barack Obama to come so far is itself a feat. No doubt, race is still a factor in the voting pattern of the American voters but the majority of Americans are likely to put their faith and future in the hands of a black man. It's a really a big deal. Back home, many of us must have been crushed to read about the protest against the appointment of Low Siew Moi as acting PKNS general manager. She has served in PKNS for over 33 years including as its deputy general manager (for corporate development) for the past11 years. In short, she is qualified, experienced and capable. She is also well accepted by all her staff. No one seems to dispute her ability - except her race. So, we have Shah Alam Umno, the PKNS Senior Officers Association and Selangor Malays Residents Action group protesting and even PAS has jumped into the fray, sounding exactly alike. We can imagine how Low, who has served PKNS with great dedication, would feel with all these protests. She would probably get a better salary if she had joined the private sector and with all her contacts, she would still be a sought after person. But she doesn't seem to be getting the respect and honour at PKNS, which is terribly sad and we hear our politicians often asking why non-bumiputras are reluctant to join the civil service. Or worse, leave the country. Does Low's case answer it all? Can anyone look at Low's eyes and tell her with a straight face that she's not qualified? Selangor MB Khalid Ibrahim deserves to be saluted for going against the tide by appointing Low. When will we rise above all this pettiness and look at meritocracy, so there is hope for all of us? That's not all. The protest against the Penang state government's decision to use various languages in tourist areas is equally appalling. Why should politicians protest the use of Chinese, Tamil, English or Jawi beside Bahasa Malaysia for sign boards in selected areas? It's not as if the status of the national language is being threatened. It's just pathetic racist reaction. Chinese, Japanese and Arabic is already being used at the KLIA beside BM, so should we take it down? In Kuching, the Sarawak BN government allows the use of Chinese on road signs and certain government departments, should they also take it down? As Malaysians, we should already be ashamed that we cannot speak most languages spoken by our fellow brothers and sisters. Unlike Belgium, Switzerland and many European countries, we are restricted to BM, English and a dialect. For the record, I cannot speak and write Mandarin - which means nobody would offer me a job in China because I would be useless to my employer. But as we squabble over these ridiculous issues, simply because some politicians want to be the heroes of their community ahead of a party election - we are doing a great disservice to our nation, our economy and our people. That is the most unpatriotic act of all.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Let Shirin Ebadi speak at Universiti Malaya!

Foreign Minister Rais Yatim is right - Iranian Nobel Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi should be allowed to speak at the campus. There is no reason why the invitation to the outspoken human rights activist should be withdrawn. She is a guest of a Malaysian university. So why should we worry if a small group of Iranian students grumble. This is Malaysia, not Teheran-lah. If they do not want to listen to her, then they should just stay away. Since when does Universiti Malaya and the Foreign Ministry take orders from Iranian students? A university is a place where intellectual discourse must be allowed to take place and the divergence of views must be encouraged. To stifle the freedom of expression and to submit to the demands of a small group is surely out of line. There is no place for the tyranny of the minority. Rais must be commended for saying the letter from the Foreign Ministry was made without his permission. Diplomacy and maintaining good relations is what Wisma Putra does but they should not let these envoys boss them around. Ebadi, a lawyer, and her daughter have faced death threats for their views, which does not conform with those of the Ayatollahs. Liberals must never let the conservatives and religious right drown their voices and rights.

Zulkifli Nordin rapped by Pakatan Rakyat MPs

He has been courting trouble since he was elected the MP for Kulim Baharu MP. First, Zulkifli Nordin created a ruckus at the Bar Council interfaith forum and was singled out for his aggressiveness at the meeting. In fact, he barged in uninvited. He then made a disappearing act as the media and his party leaders following the uproar. The PKR disciplinary committee finally announced that he has been hauled up but the fact is that the panel is dragging its feet on the fate of the MP, probably fearful of losing him. If they can, they want Malaysians to forget about his misdeeds. Now, the lawyer - who has projected himself as a champion of Malay and Islamic rights - has irked his fellow Pakatan Rakyat MPs with his speech at the Dewan Rakyat on Thursday where he fired pot shots at practically everyone including his PR colleagues. Zulkifli's targets included groups who wanted signages in Jawi to be changed, those who wanted to use the word "Allah" and the Bar Council, of course, according to a report in The Star. I think Malaysians have had enough of these self-appointed heroes. We certainly had enough of Datuk Ahmad Ismail, the Bukit Bendera Umno division, with his racist remarks and more recently, we wonder why Gerakan leader Tan Lian Hoe stirred up an honest's nest with her remarks on the origin of Malays in the country. She's not been very clever as her constituency is predominantly Malay but more importantly, Malaysians do not need racist politicians who use race and religion to project themselves.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dr M defends Datukship for Shah Rukh Khan

Dr Mahathir Mohamad has come out in defence of the decision to award Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan with a Datukship. He said he is embarassed that the decision has been questioned as this is not the first time a foreigner has been awarded a Datukship. Dr Mahathir, said to be fan of the Indian actor, has said that Shah Rukh Khan deserves the title, according to the Malaysian Insider. Period. The former premier is entitled to his views although most Malaysians are still stunned at the Malacca state government move. But he has a point, there are many Malaysians who don't even deserve these titles. The decision to award Shah Rukh Khan was based on a recommendation by former finance minister Daim Zainuddin.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

High flying KL Datuk Bandar

Fresh from the controversy over the decision to rename Jalan Alor, the world renowned food street in Kuala Lumpur, the city mayor Datuk Ab Hakim Borhan has now found himself in the news again. The Dewan Rakyat has been told that taxpayers spent over RM1mil on travel expenses for Ab Hakim, according to a report in Malaysiakini. He must be the most travelled mayor so far. Meanwhile, Malaysians are waiting for Federal Territories Minister Datuk Zulhasnan Rafique, who is now visiting Labuan, to return home to put things right. Zulhasnan must have heard the loud protest over City Hall's brillant decision to change Jalan Alor to Jalan Kejora. A news item filed by AFP yesterday on the controversy made it across the globe - that's how famous Jalan Alor is. We are counting on Zulhasnan to put some senses back to the officials in City Hall. If they want to name some little roads in the Bukit Bintang area after the planets, it's really up to them but keep Jalan Alor as it is called.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thanks to PAS state govt, it's now 50 per cent.

The Kedah PAS-led state government has infuriated housing developers in the state with a new ruling requiring a 50 per cent quota for new houses to be allocated to bumiputras, the New Straits Times reported today. The current policy is 30 per cent for bumiputras in other states. At a glance, it makes sense for Kedah to have the ruling as the state's population is predominantly Malays. The only snag is that with the 50 per cent ruling, which comes with discounted rate for bumiputra buyers, housing developers can expect to be hard hit. In short, it means losses. The sole DAP assemblyman Lee Guan Aik has given the state government until Nov 18 to withdraw its new policy. Even the Kedah Malay Chamber of Commerce president Datuk Zainol Abidin Abdul Hamid has objected as bumiputra developers would be hit as well. Obviously, the Kedah PAS state government has given little thought to this policy. Earlier this year, the state government irked environmentalists with its decision to carry out logging in a densely forested area. Lee is now saying the policy was not reflective of the Kedah PAS' slogan of "PAS For All."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Jalan Alor is now Jalan Kejora? What a crap!

With all the excitement of last week's political events, I missed one piece of minor but important news item - the DBKL has decided to rename Jalan Alor, the favourite food haunt of people in Kuala Lumpur, and tourists as well - to Jalan Kejora. What was on the mind of the road naming committee when they decided to make this stupid move? Did they even bother to consult the food operators, businessmen and residents there? Don't they realise that Jalan Alor is an international name? The DBKL has came up an unconvincing line to justify the decision to rename the road, saying it had to "meet the requirements of the road naming guideline." What requirements and guidelines are they talking about? For another perspective, read Meiyen's take here. Let's hope Federal Territories Minister Datuk Zulhasnan Rafique, who is an open and fair-minded person, will put things right by keeping the name Jalan Alor.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Soi Lek -The Comeback Kid

He has been written off as politically dead but Chua Soi Lek has staged a dramatic, if not, stunning comeback, as the MCA deputy president. The outspoken politician, who was left out of the March 8 polls, understood what the delegates wanted in the post-political tsunami period - they wanted MCA leaders who dare to speak up. Soi Lek fitted that image as an eloquent, outspoken and upfront leader. While the sex DVD issue continued to haunt him during the campaign, the constant appearance of his wife and MP son with him must have helped remove the doubts of delegates. After all, if his family had forgiven him, it was time to move on. He had also admitted his mistake. But public perception is also important although the delegates have picked him. Now, his task would be to prove to Malaysians that he can live up to their expectations and to put the past behind. Likewise, it would not be easy for the equally outspoken Tee Keat, the new MCA president. Making demands is one thing but the question remains whether they would be accomodated. Or they remain just as demands. There were snubs from several key Umno politicians after the general assembly. Repealing the ISA? No way. Dominating Umno? Who says so. Even the request for the unassuming, if not unimportant, BN Youth deputy chairman post by Liow Tiong Lai was met with reservations and questions from some Umno leaders. Even the usually level-headed Shahrir Samad questioned the need for such a post. At least Pak Lah and Hishamuddin Hussein Onn had the decency to say the request would be discussed.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ka Ting's parting shot at MCA assembly

Outgoing MCA president Ong Ka Ting has probably delivered one of his strongest speeches. There was plenty of sting, for sure. It may be a little too late but he will be saluted for saying what needs to be said in front of the Umno president. The Malaysian Insider also posted a commentary: "Umno not a bully? Yeah. Right" rebutting Pak Lah's defence of Umno. Perception is everything in politics. Umno leaders can shrug it off, express their displeasure or lash out at MCA for Ka Ting's strong words but that would be the greatest disservice they can do. The MCA has been Umno's loyal partner for over 50 years. Both parties have gone through thick and thin. Like all marriages, partners must take what each other say or feel seriously for it to work. Unlike some BN component parties, the MCA has defended the coalition, not once using the words "mulling of leaving the BN" to revive itself. The truth is no partner is always right but it is always good to listen, that's why God gives us two ears and only one mouth.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Better to win the hearts and minds

IT'S simple political common sense - win over the hearts and minds of those who resist you. If they oppose you, neutralise them at least and if they are still hostile to you, just leave them alone. You don't need to be Sun Tze to know these basic principles. There maybe misforgivings with Hindraf, particularly over the street protest and the incident at the PM Hari Raya open house, among some sections of Malaysians. But we cannot ignore the fact that Hindraf enjoy very strong support among the Indians. The fact is this - MIC has lost the legitimacy to represent the Indians. The PPP and IPF cannot to the job either. In the absence of an organised Indian movement, Hindraf appears to be the only vehicle that enjoys the backing of the community. That's the political reality. Overtures have been made in the past and even if Hindraf appear to be pro-opposition, its leaders have taken pains to emphasise they prefer to be apolitical. Their only quarrel is with Samy Vellu, they claimed. The question now is this - was there a window of opportunity where the BN leaders could have make peace with Hindraf, hear the grievances and see what could be done? Has an opportunity being lost? So, Hindraf is now banned. The followers would not wear the same orange coloured T-shirts but how do we see and tell what's in the hearts and minds of the followers? How does the BN intend to win back those crucial votes with the ban of Hindraf - unless its leaders are convinced that MIC can perform a miracle.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

SMS messages can also be leaked out?

The purported exchange of text message between Najib Tun Razak and lawyer Shafee Abdullah has become a controversy.The opposition has charged that there is something more to the one sentence text that read "will face a tentative charge but all is not lost." Opposition politicians and critics have claimed there is an abuse of power by the DPM while BN politicians said Razak Baginda would have been freed if there was interference. But there is a point that's being missed out by many - how could an exchange of text message between a Deputy Prime Minister and a very prominent lawyer be leaked out? That's a serious breach of security and confidentiality, if the text message is accurate. What has the service operator got to to say about its protection of its subscribers. It's bad enough that banks, property agents and even clubs seems to be able to call us up or send us an unsolicated SMS of their promotion but when private exchange of messages leaks out, surely something is wrong. If it happens to the DPM, there's nothing to stop SMS of other politicians, whether BN or Pakatan Rakyat from being leaked out. Simple SMS remarks or casual jokes could easily be distorted and leaked out to discredit a person politically. But beyond politics, the question of privacy and confidentially has been serious violated. Surely, the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) would want to find out more. Jeff Ooi has his take on the SMS leak here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Court orders Negri Ruler to pay up bank

It isn't everyday that a Ruler of a state is ordered by the courts to pay up a loan. Today, a precedent was set when the Putrajaya Special Court (picture) , set up to hear cases involving the royalty, ordered the former King and Yang Dipertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan, Tuanku Jaafar to pay Standard Chartered Bank about RM3.5mil to honour his commitment over a business deal. The court also dismissed Tuanku Jaafar's countersuit against the bank for a declaration that the bank was not entitled to uplift his fixed deposit to settle the outstanding loan. The court decision has certainly embarassed his Highness. Among corporate figures, many wondered how this perculiar situation has came about as the amount would be regarded as small among the rich and famous. It is often not talked about but the expensive lifestyles of some royalty members, especially the siblings, have often put a strain on the purses of several royal households.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Syed Ali Al Habshee's warped argument

Cheras Umno division chief Syed Ali Al Habshee's argument is baffling. He has every right to launch a campaign fund to support Utusan Malaysia to defend itself against the RM30mil defamation suit filed by DAP's Teresa Kok. As a fellow journalist, I would also not want to see another newspaper or journalist being sued. Like Rocky Bru, I share similar sentiments. No one would also argue with Syed Ali's plan to buy loudspeakers for mosques and suraus. It is good of him to do so, really. But the statement by the controversial politician who was quoted as saying that Teresa Kok had challenged the honour of the Malays by suing Utusan as it was a newspaper owned by the Malays is out of line. He must be a very confused person. Newspapers get sued practically everyday by various interest groups. He went on to say that "challenging the Malays is similar to challenging Umno." It is such racial posturing by politicians like Syed Ali that caused Umno and other BN component parties to lose massively in the elections. Politicians like Syed Ali and Ahmad Ismail should stop playing small time communal heroes. Those days are gone and these little warlords should be hauled up by the party leaders, who can see the larger picture, I am sure. Teresa Kok has every right to seek justice and fair compensation, particularly when the mosque involved has defended Teresa Kok, saying she wasn't involved. But that is for the court to decide. But we should be very concerned with politicians who fan racial sentiments ahead of party elections, without regard to the implications of such racially divisive statements. They continue to do so because they believe they can get away with it and the reality is that they get away with it most of the time. It is such arrogance that pissed off Malaysians who want see fair play. For the record - Syed Ali called for my sacking as the editor at an Umno general assembly because I questioned Dr Mahathir Mohamad's record in fighting corruption during his 22-year administration. So much for someone who cares about press freedom.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The elusive Zulkifli Nordin

Updates: Oct 14, 3.05pm- Zul denies he is defecting.

Kulim-Bandar Baru MP Zulkifli Nordin, who shot to national notoriety, for barging into Bar Council interfaith forum is fast making a reputation for himself as the elusive MP. Not only does constituents do not know where he is most of the time, even the PKR leaders and reporters have problems contacting him. The PKR disciplinary committee has also yet to act against him for his outrageous behaviour at the Bar Council meeting, hoping that Malaysians would just forget about the whole incident. Today, the talk in town is that Zul Nordin, a lawyer, is joining Umno, according to the Malaysian Insider. He did not turn up in Parliament although his party boss, Anwar Ibrahim, was making his maiden speech. Neither could he be reached for comments on the Alor Star High Court decision to throw out a BN petition after the BN withdrew it, ensuring Zul remain as MP. The BN was said to have a strong case against Zul as he did not submit his elections expenditure from his 2004 polls. No reasons have been given for the BN decision. He seems to be making news for the wrong reasons. It seems the last they heard of him was that he was heading to Mecca with some Uzbekistan friends.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Datukship for Shah Rukh Khan? No joke!

Utusan Malaysia's Senyum Kambing comments on Shah Rukh Khan.

IT'S one award that would surely stir a lot of controversy, if not invite much criticism. The decision to award a Datukship to Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan is mind-boggling. Such awards, we thought, were given to individuals for their contributions to a state or the country. We are not sure what is Shah Rukh Khan's contribution to Malacca. Sure, he is a great actor and dancer with a massive fan base in Malaysia, but Malaysians need plenty of convincing as far as his contribution to Malacca, or Malaysia, is concerned. There must be something that we do not know. Maybe he has helped promote Malaysia through his efforts that we do not know and it would be good if someone shed some light on this one. Bernama has quoted the CM's political secretary Saadon Bisirun as saying that SRK was awarded the title for his contribution to entertainment at the international level and for making a movie in Malacca. Certain states have been criticised for their overly generous awards of Datukship to individuals, whose identities and contributions are totally unknown. One Ruler of a state defended his long list of new Datuks each year, saying his state was a "big state" but many are cynical although it is his Highness prerogative. Still, these awards would lose its prestige and importance if is no serious efforts are made to maintain a certain level of standards.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Kalimullah Hassan leaves NSTP

Datuk Seri Kalimullah Hassan has tendered his resignation from the New Straits Times Berhad as deputy chairman. The letter was reportedly submitted to the NSTP board on Sept 3 and if accepted would take effect on Dec 31. While Kalimullah's decision has only been reported today, he has made known of his readiness to quit his post a few times in the past. His post in NSTP, which he regarded as a national service, has never been an easy one. He started his journalism career in the Straits Echo in Penang before joining The Star and Straits Times. He was also a correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times before his entry into the corporate world. NSTP chief executive officer Datuk Syed Faisal Albar also announced his decision to leave the company recently. No replacement has been named to Syed Faisal's post until now. It is not clear whether there will be changes, at the editorial and corporate senior levels, at the NSTP and Media Prima Group, which operates TV3 and NTV7, next year.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Of Hindraf and Raya Open Houses

Malaysia is probably one of the few countries where you can actually walk to the PM and asked for a photograph to be taken. This is the only place I can think of where there is a Raya open house and thousands would patiently line up for their turn to shake the PM's hand and then enjoy the food, which is of course paid for by taxpayers. The point is this - despite all the loud political noises, Malaysia is a safe and tolerant country. The security personnel do not freak out easily, unlike the agents with dark glasses that guard the US president. In India and Pakistan, they are even more nervous. Don't dream of shaking the president's hand. During the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in KL in 1990, I remembered being asked to leave the toilet I was in at the PWTC because a senior leader from an Asean country wanted to use one of the urinals. His bodyguards forgot he was in another country. So, when the Hindraf supporters wanted to remind the PM during the Raya open house that their leaders were still in detention, not many Umno leaders and members were amused. Pak Lah being Pak Lah, he allowed the Hindraf supporters to approach him although the security men were against the idea. There are now conflicting reports over how the event took place - Hindraf has insisted there was no commotion. But there is no denying they wanted to stage a protest. They had a signature memorandum with them too. They have their reasons and it is their democratic right. But they could have chosen a better time and place. Let's leave politics out, at least for a day, on a festive occassion. We must know when to stop politicking. DAP and PAS leaders like Lim Kit Siang and others have always called on the PM during the Hari Raya but always with great respect and they have never made strong political statements on the side line, preferring to talk about the festival. The Hindraf show of strength was thus a little out of place. To put it in a nutshell, it wasn't appropriate. Certainly, given the emotions of the Hindraf case, many would prefer to overlook, even defend and justify, what they did. Yes, we agree that the community has a strong case for the years of neglect and their leaders under ISA. These are real grievances. There have been calls to ban Hindraf. I am not sure if it would help. There is large support for Hindraf from the Indian community because the MIC has lost the legitimacy to represent the Indians. It is best for the government to keep the channel open. But Hindraf should also be open minded enough to be sensitive to the sentiments expressed by others. Let's not be too quick to punish Hindraf as this is the season for forgiveness. At the same time, Hindraf should also not be too overly defensive and controntational, let's try to see each other's views. Surely, Hindraf leaders would be pissed off if there are protesters at their Deepavali open house, if they stage one. More important, let's celebrate each other's festivals as Malaysians and at least, keep politics out during such times. Can we see some goodwill, respect and tolerance, for a change?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pak Lah will not defend post

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi chats with his Deputy Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak before the Barisan National Supreme Council meeting at the Umno headquaters in PWTC - AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

The Barisan Nasional supreme council meeting is still going on but the SMS that is flying out from the room at the PWTC is that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has informed the heads of the component parties that he is not defending his Umno president's post. He also told them that he would step down in March. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak will take over. Until this morning, some Umno leaders were still attempting to persuade him to defend his post. A group also gathered at the PWTC to express support for Pak Lah. At the meeting, Pak Lah said he would also be giving up his position as BN chief by March but he will not slow down his reform efforts in government from now until March. BN component party leaders are expected to tell the media that they respect his decision to step down in March.
With Pak Lah's announcement, the 191 divisions are expected to nominate Najib for president. It isn't clear whether he would have a running mate but Muhyiddin Yassin is regarded as the most serious candidate for the number two slot. The party polls would be crucial for many as it could well determine their positions in government, especially at the Cabinet level. The assumption is that when Najib takes over in March, there would be a Cabinet reshuffle.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Wednesday D-Day for Pak Lah?

The Prime Minister is expected to announce by Wednesday that he is not seeking re-election as Umno president. It won't be news to most Malaysians by now but he would have to make known his stand at the Cabinet and the Barisan Nasional supreme council meetings. Pak Lah will stay on until March. He will also inform the 191 Umno divisions, which will begin their meetings on Oct 9, that he would decline nominations for the top post. His announcement will mark the beginning of a leadership transition period, which will see the baton being passed on to his deputy, Najib Tun Razak. The task for Najib will be tough. Najib has said that the BN, particularly Umno, must change or be changed. But the question is do Umno leaders realise the need to change?

More than eight months after the general election, the perception is that Umno does not see the urgency to reform itself. The impression is that Umno leaders prefer to blame others - from Pak Lah to Anwar Ibrahim to the press - except themselves. Some seemed to believe that racial posturing is the answer, not realising that they would continue to alienate the young Malays and other races. The idea is to win back the votes of all races, not lose them further. Some have lost the connect with the young, still harping on historical events, which meant little to a country where over 60% of the population are less than 24 years old. Like John McCain, who doesn't know how to use the Internet against Obama, who cannot live without his Blackberry, there are plenty in Umno, and BN, who have no inkling what is happening in cyberspace. Najib has the job of convincing his members that they must change, the party must go through reforms, the party needs rebranding (and it doesn't mean a new set of uniforms and badges) and reinvention. It's simple, nobody can sell a product that's over 50 years old with more of the same. The clients - in this case, the electorate - have changed and surely they cannot be using a product, which they cannot identify with. Unless Umno members recognise these weaknesses, the going would be tough for Najib. He has less than four years to carry out drastic changes to win back the states BN lost to Pakatan Rakyat. It has to be a battle of popularity from now. It is about appealing to the people. It can no longer be business as usual for Umno or it will be out of business.

Friday, October 3, 2008

More to fight for Umno deputy president post

Barely 24 hours after Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced his decision to vie for the deputy president post, the word is that there could be more aspirants for the race. There is every indication to expect a crowded race for the post, at least for now. These aspirants would need 38 nominations from the 191 divisions and certainly not all would get it. Those said to be interested include Dr Rais Yatim, Ali Rustam, Zulhasnan Rafique, Hishamuddin Hussein Onn, Muyhiddin Yassin, Tajol Rosli and even Muhammad Taib. The post is expected to be left vacant with Najib Tun Razak going up the party ladder. By convention, the Umno deputy president is usually the DPM, thus the high political stakes. Expect plenty of fireworks if the race is going to be a tight one. One or two would probably pull out of the race with the "ballon testing" shows they have little chances of winning or even securing the nominations. Expect fireworks and mudslinging if the race is a tight one.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Zahid Hamidi the dark horse?

Datuk Zahid Hamidi (pic) is contesting the deputy Umno president post. If he gets the 38 nominations* and go on to win the post, he could very well be the next Deputy Prime Minister. He is said to be the "dark horse" in the race for the number two slot in the Umno party polls. The former Umno Youth chief is said to have the endorsement of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is certain to announce soon that he is not seeking to defend his Umno president's post. It is no secret among supporters of Pak Lah that they are not backing Tan Sri Muyhiddin Yassin, who had openly called for Pak Lah to speed up the leadership transition period. It is not clear if Muyhiddin would contest the deputy president post. If he does, then the fight is between Zahid Hamidi and Muyhiddin. At least two division chiefs, Cheras and Titiwangsa, have reportedly endorsed Najib and Muhyiddin for the top two posts but they have yet to hold their meetings. With Zahid Hamidi's announcement, the scenario has changed sharply. The race has become tighter and the stakes even higher. While Najib is not expected to endorse any candidate for the number two post, it must be noted that Zahid had served as Najib's political secretary. The former ISA detainee was also an ally of Anwar Ibrahim. He paid a heavy political price when he backed Anwar's reformasi campaign in 1998 and it took him a long time to return to mainstream Umno politics. But the stage is now set for a showdown between Zahid and Muyhiddin.

* Under Umno quota rules, those intending to stand for party posts must get at least 30% (president), 20% (deputy president), 10% (vice-president) and 5% (Supreme Council seat) of nominations.