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Malaysian Party Polls: 'Fight for the Next Generation'

Posted: 07 Oct 2013 09:47 PM PDT

Should Khairy win, which looks likely, and should Mukhriz lose, which also looks likely, Kuala Lumpur sources say, that raises the question whether Mahathir and his allies will go after Najib.

Asia Sentinel

Malaysia's United Malays National Organization - the world's longest-ruling political party - is to hold its triennial intraparty elections on Oct. 19 in a contest that one UMNO source calls "a fight for the next generation in the party." 

For the first time, the race, with former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in the thick of it as potential kingmaker, is open to 140,000 members of the party's 3.4 million rank and file, instead of polling a few hundred top cadres. Despite a considerable lack of enthusiasm, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak will be re-elected without challenge as party president, with Muhyiddin Yassin remaining as deputy president and deputy prime minister. 

From there down, however, it gets more interesting, and becomes a test of whether UMNO is willing to give up the kind of corrupting influences that got the party in so much trouble with the voters in May, when for the first time since 1969 the Barisan Nasional, or ruling national coalition lost the popular vote to the opposition despite preserving its position in parliament, 133-89, via a thoroughgoing gerrymandering of the districts. 

Najib's post-election pledges to clean out corruption have largely been met with derision. Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, a party elder whom few listen to, recently wrote that the challenges facing Malaysia include "a need for a clean government of integrity to combat the rampant and pervasive corruption. During the past decade, reports say Malaysia lost US$338 billion in illicit money outflows and 50 percent of Malaysian companies report they lose business opportunities because rival companies pay bribes to decision-makers." 

"I would say it is a fight between Khairy and Mukhriz." the source said. Although they are not facing off against each other, that would be Kedah Chief Minister Mukhriz Mahathir, the 49-year-old son of the former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is seeking to become one of the party's three vice presidents, probably as an eventual attempt to springboard to the premiership now held by Najib, and Khairy Jamaluddin, the son in law of former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is despised by the Mahathir wing of the party. Khairy is the chairman of UMNO Youth, the youth wing of the party. 

Khairy, now 37, was previously a target not only of Mahathir but of Najib, partly because he was a Badawi representative but also because they accused him of using his relationship to Abdullah Badawi to gain special favors. However, he has since become close to both Najib and Najib's wife, Rosmah Mansor, which is believed to guarantee his return as both youth and sports minister and UMNO Youth head. 

Although the 88-year-old former premier Mahathir remains the most popular figure in the party, his influence is under severe strain. Today, the betting is that Mukhriz will finish out of the running for the vice presidency, although he is said to have been gaining ground in recent days. And Khairy will retain his seat as chairman of the youth wing - an eventuality for the former prime minister that could be called a worst-case scenario.

Najib is seeking to maintain the current slate of three vice presidents - Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, and Rural and Regional Development Minister Shafie Apdal against an onslaught of three challengers, the most visible of whom is Mukhriz.

Well-placed sources in Kuala Lumpur say Mukhriz and the challengers are likely to lose out to the incumbents, although one source told Asia Sentinel: "Much as it's tough for Mukhriz, I wouldn't write him off. He might just squeak in."

At Najib's behest the three incumbents have been traveling the country as a team, practicing the kinds of money politics that the party had publicly eschewed, while Mukhriz, elected in June as the Chief Minister of his father's home state of Kedah, has been attempting to pull off a victory without practicing the same kind of spending. 

Mahathir and his allies continue to blame a weakened Najib for the electoral debacle in May, accusing him of a vain attempt to get ethnic Chinese and Indian voters to support the Barisan at a time when the other races, turned off by rabid Malay nationalist politics, had clearly abandoned it. 

Only by appealing to fears of Chinese political as well as economic dominance to the 60.1 percent ethnic Malay majority and allied party machines in the East Malaysia states of Sabah and Sarawak was the Barisan able to squeak through with its win. At that, the two component parties, the Malaysian Chinese Association and the Malaysian Indian Congress, both riven with factionalism and charges of corruption, were nearly destroyed. UMNO preserved the Barisan's primacy only by winning 88 seats in 2013 compared to 79 in 2008.


Part 1: The deal

Posted: 07 Oct 2013 08:58 PM PDT


"When are you next meeting the old man? I need to see you before you meet him," said Ku Li.

"Today at seven," I replied.

"Isn't he still overseas?"

"He is. But he's coming back at five and throwing an open house at seven."

"But he already had his open house last week."

"That was for the public. This one is for friends."

"Oh, then I need to see you today, before you meet him. What time are you leaving the house?"

"About six I suppose. It will take me an hour to get there."

"Can you leave earlier, say at four, and swing by my house on the way there?"

"I will be not swinging by your house," I replied. "Your house is out of the way, not along the way. I will need to make a detour to go to your house."

"Okay, make a detour then, and drop by my house, say around five. Then we can chat for an hour or so before your next meeting."

"Okay," I said, and hung up.

"Change of plans," I told my wife. "We are leaving at four instead of six. We need to meet Ku Li first."

"Why?" my wife asked, always the curious one, especially when it comes to politicians.

"I don't know. He didn't say. Just said he needs to see us first before we meet the old man."

"Must be very important," replied my wife. "He seldom calls unless he really needs something."

"Isn't that the same for all politicians?" I quipped.

A drive to Langgak Golf is not my favourite journey, especially at four when the peak hour starts. Why the hell do people still want to live in Ampang, a relic of the old British colonial era when Ampang meant upmarket? Today that place is just like one huge parking lot with cars inching along slower than you could walk that route. But I suppose the 'White House' along Langgak Golf would look out of place in the new upmarket areas springing up like mushrooms all over the Kelang Valley. An old man in his old house in an old area that has seen better days -- this sort of best describes the person I am about to meet.

We parked outside the 'White House' and smiled for the camera. I wonder how many shots the Special Branch has of me entering Ku Li's mansion? It must cost them a bomb to station an officer 24-7 in front of the house to monitor the comings and goings at Ku Li's office cum residence. Ah well, someone has to do it I suppose. It must puzzle them that more opposition people visit Ku Li than his own Umno people. I know of many who would never drive their own cars there and would sneak there in disguise so that Bukit Aman is not aware of their links to Ku Li.

My wife and I were ushered into what could easily be a replica of the Oval Room and Ku Li, in his usual English gentleman's manner, strode across the room to shake our hands and gestured to our seats, the same seats we would always sit in every time we went there. And Ku Li too sat in his favourite chair with his large portrait as the backdrop, every bit a scene from an American President's movie set.

Tea and cakes in the British tradition were passed around and we got down to business. We only had an hour so there was not much time for idle chit-chat. "So you are meeting the old man at seven," said Ku Li, as we both looked at our watches.

"Yes, in two hours or so," I replied.

"Okay, tell him I am ready," said Ku Li.


"Yes, ready to take on the leadership of Umno. But I will do so only with his support. Without his support I will not go for it."

"Okay, I will tell him that," I replied. "Anything else I should tell him?"

"No. Just tell him that. Then see what he says and we will take it from there."

We do not need an hour to talk about this and he could have just told me over the phone without needing me to spend an extra hour in the car battling the rush hour jam along Jalan Ampang.

The one-hour meeting with Ku Li took only twenty minutes so we sat in the car outside Mahathir's house for almost an hour to kill time. At sharp seven we walked in to Mahathir's house and I whispered in the old man's ear that I needed to talk to him whenever he could get away from his guests.

"What about?" Mahathir asked.

"About Ku Li".

"What about Ku Li?"

"He has a message for you."

I had to wait almost three hours for the crowd to thin before Mahathir could sneak away and sit down beside me. "So, what is the message?" he asked me.

"He said he is ready."

"Ready for what?"

"Ready to take on Pak Lah for the Umno Presidency?"

"He told you this?"


"How did he say it?"

I related my twenty minutes meeting with Ku Li while Mahathir just listened without comment.

"What do you want me to tell him?" I asked.

"Let me think about it first. I will tell you later."

That night Mahathir had a heart attack and was rushed to hospital at 3.00am. I never received the message that I was supposed to pass back to Ku Ki. Hmm…talk about bad timing. I suppose Ku Li is now going to have a long wait and he had better hope that Mahathir survives the heart attack if he wants this deal to happen.



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