Monday, September 11, 2006

By Rejal Arbee

So it has now come to pass that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was rejected by the division he had helmed for the past 30 years to be one of its seven delegates to the Umno general assembly in November. Mahathir himself has anticipated the defeat knowing the unprecedented efforts by the powers that be in Umno to derail his attempt to attend the assembly as an ordinary delegate.

His failure to garner enough votes to be one of the delegates has far reaching ramifications not just for him and the views he hold of the present leadership but more so for Umno and the Malays and by extension the nation. A lot will be written about this in the days and weeks ahead. But for now let us take a quick look at the possible implications.

For Mahathir himself, this is not the end of story. Knowing his undefeatable character he will not bemoan the defeat though those who do not like him will surely capitalise the fact that a man who had helmed Umno as its President for an unprecedented 22 years to be rejected by his own Division is most telling and humilating. To those out to demonise him, the result will be a cause for joy and celebrations.

But knowing the man, that defeat is but a small setback in his struggles and determination to continue to be of service to the people especially the Malays and the nation. Does this mean that he has lost his influence over Umno? Would the defeat be a dent in his stature?

There will always be talk of the unrelentless efforts by the Umno establishment including its hq, the Kedah Liaison Committee and the Kubang Pasu division including the last minute pep-talk given to the delegates by the Division’s head Datuk Mohd Johari Baharom who is also the Deputy Minister of Internal Security, former Menteri Besar Tan Sri Osman Arof and former Dr. Mahathir's political secretary, Datuk Saad Man, at the Darulaman Golf Club which was able to ensure that Mahathir will not get enough votes to pull through.

Thus out of the 472 delegates who voted, the majority did not vote for him. He managed to garner support from only 227 delegates leaving him in the ninth place among the 15 contestants, 42 votes short of the seventh contestant to be selected.
For Mahathir the defeat could mean a total shutout for him to air his views and grievances against the government in Umno. He had earlier already been given the cold shoulder by the mainstream media.

His other options to voice what ails him would be the NGOs and of course the cyber space. He has already rejected the platform offered by the opposition parties as he has always been unwavering in his support for Umno.
But what of Umno itself? What is the implications of its rejection of Mahathir? For sure the voting further confirmed the Malay feudalistic psyche of always supporting the establishment. But quite apart from this, it is a further manifestation of a somewhat widespread belief that Umno of today is a far cry of the Umno of old when there was greater idealism among members to fight and struggle for the general interest of the Malays and the nation.

There is greater cynicism that people who join Umno are far from being selfless. Many lament the fact that most of those who join Umno have lost their idealism but are now more interested in personal interest rather than the common good of the people. The fact that so many can be easily cowed to tow the line out of fear they will be cut off the Umno largesse if acted otherwise is testimony to this.

So what will the outcome be for Umno? Will it affect the party’s standing? There is no denying that many are disgusted at the way it has treated one of its most illustrious sons who more than others have brought glory to the nation and made Malaysia known in the eyes of the world.

But equally there are also those who questioned Mahathir’s belligerence in pursuing to question actions of the present leadership thereby bringing about disunity within the ranks of the party.

Will this mark the beginning of the decline of Umno’s stature in Malaysian politics? Only time will tell. But what is sure is that there is already a growing number of Malays including the young who are now questioning the relevance of Umno.

Some Umno loyals have even openly declared that they have lost faith in the party and will not vote for the party when elections come. The one thing going for Umno is that it can take comfort in the fact that until today there is as yet no viable alternative to it.

Both Pas and Keadilan are seen as too narrow in their outlook and struggles, one fighting for Islamic conservatism while the other fighting for the rights of one man, to be able win nationwide support. Unless they can move away from such narrow interests, none will not be a viable alternative to Umno despite the problems the party is facing.

For Umno itself, there has to be much soul searching and a rejuvenation to ensure it remains relevant to the Malays and the nation.

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