Too many Umno ‘tigers’ on a hillock
INSIGHTBy JOCELINE TAN
The internal politicking in Perlis has been described as a case of too many tigers on a small hill but the top Umno leadership grew worried when the rivalry between Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim and Datuk Radzi Sheikh Ahmad went public. WHEN Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim arrived in Mecca for the Haj last month, he thought he would be taking a break from Umno politics.
But soon after the Perlis Mentri Besar checked into his hotel, he ran into his Umno colleagues including his good friend and Ketereh MP Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad whose sister lives in Mecca where she runs a small hotel.
Alwi was surprised that Shahidan had managed to get in three days after the deadline for pilgrims to enter Mecca for the all-important Haj. When asked how he had managed it, Shahidan merely smiled and quipped: “Malaikat tolong saya” (with some help from the angels).
He had also brought along the former mufti of Perlis as well as the new and rather controversial one, Dr Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin. But his plans for a political respite were not to be for he was soon having his meals with his Umno friends and talking, what else, politics.
Besides, Shahidan has been in the spotlight the last few months for the wrong reasons.
He has been embroiled in a very public feud with none other than Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad who is also Home Minister and Kangar MP. The top Umno leadership, concerned about Umno’s chances in the next general election, has told the pair to tone down their disagreements.
But as many in Umno are aware, Radzi is not the only one having problems with Shahidan.
Arau MP Datuk Seri Diraja Syed Razlan Jamalullail and Padang Besar MP and Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Azmi Khalid also have their share of problems with the Mentri Besar.
As one ministerial aide put it: “It’s really weird. There are only three MPs in Perlis and they do not get along with the MB.”
None of them were on the state Umno liaison committee headed by Shahidan until recently when Azmi was appointed information head. Another anomaly is that none of the three MPs are division chiefs which is so important in Umno politics. Shahidan's supporters say the MPs, particularly Radzi and Azmi, chose not to contest division posts whereas Syed Razlan is still new to division politics.
Some like Alwi have described the situation as “too many tigers on a small hill,” the implication being that Perlis is too small for so many political big guns. The dispute between the “Umno tigers” touched new heights last week when the normally reticent Radzi lost his cool and slammed the “culture of factionalism” in Perlis which he said had caused political instability and turned the state into a laughing stock.
Then, in a stunning blow, he said Shahidan’s leadership should be changed for the stability of the party. It was the first time in a long while that anyone had dared call for a change of Mentri Besar, something that is strictly the prerogative of the Prime Minister.
Radzi also made a veiled threat saying he had “records of the state Umno leadership's weaknesses which everyone in Perlis knew about”. Among the audience was Padang Besar Umno chief Datuk Zahidi Abdul Rahman who probably wished he was somewhere else so that he did not have to be caught in the crossfire.
Some said Radzi was reacting to remarks that Shahidan had made the previous night.
The Perlis strongman had criticised Radzi for scrapping the free-flow policy at the Malaysia-Thai border that allowed foreigners to move within a 3km stretch without the need for passports. It had helped pull in tourists to Perlis and Shahidan was upset at losing the special zone.
He also lashed out at Azmi for talking about polluted rivers in the state, saying that it was strange that Azmi, who had been around for years had only just noticed the condition of Perlis' rivers.
The strongman called it “interference from leaders with no posts in the state”.
Intense political rivalry is not new to Perlis. “It's a small place and people tend to get in each other's way. It was the same even when Perlis had only two divisions in the 1970s. Dr Mahathir said we were like North and South Korea,” said Tan Sri Hamid Pawanteh, the former Perlis Mentri Besar and now Dewan Negara president.
Shahidan, who took over from Hamid in 1995, is known for his warlord style of politics.
A lot of what is happening in Perlis stems from his larger-than-life personality, seemingly unlimited resources (he donated a brand new SUV to Tabung Haji when in Mecca) and the fact that he is not afraid to exercise his clout on those around him.
He is very hands-on, and party people credit him for checking the PAS advance in Perlis and turning the state from category grey to white. PAS has only one state seat, and Shahidan is not being boastful when he claims that he will deliver a clean sweep in the next polls. Radzi's open attacks have also not gone down well with many in Umno.
Perlis Umno Youth chief Datuk Rozabil Abdul Rahman said that a top party official like Radzi should air his views through the proper forum. “It's not the culture of Umno to do it this way. Our MB is cool about the whole thing and does not want to respond. The MB is sure that if there is a problem, the PM would have called him to talk,” said Rozabil. But according to Syed Razlan, Radzi “has had it up to here” (his nostrils) with the goings on in Perlis.
Syed Razlan, whose elder brother is the Perlis Sultan, claimed he has not had support from the state politicians in his four years as Arau MP. “Many of my functions are blocked, people are told not to come. Even when I wanted to hand over allocations to schools, some of the headmasters dared not come, while others sent their PIBG representatives.
“We have been keeping quiet, so please understand how we feel. People do not know what is going on, and it's easy to tell us not to make it public. People like me bear the brunt – allocations hijacked, programmes sabotaged. I would have used even stronger words than Radzi. It's time to call a spade a spade,” said Syed Razlan.
In Parliament recently, Syed Razlan had described the meagre investments flowing into Perlis the last five years as a joke. The other MPs, sensing his agenda, called out, “Change the Mentri Besar!” Some think that Syed Razlan has become a target because he is seen as a potential Mentri Besar.
He is a relative new face who cut his teeth in politics when he defeated the charismatic PAS ulama Datuk Haron Din in the last elections. But Syed Razlan is really too junior for Shahidan to worry about and Azmi despite his macho looks is terribly afraid of confrontation. Shahidan's true match is the no-nonsense Radzi. The Home Minister told people that at 65, he is not power crazy but merely wants to see a more professional level of politics unfold in his homestate.
Radzi enjoys the implicit trust of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who had personally asked him to return to active politics in 2004 before appointing him party secretary-general and then Home Minister. He is in a position to whisper into the Prime Minister's ears whereas Shahidan had the ears of the former Prime Minister.
But Shahidan, as Rozabil pointed out, enjoys broad support on the ground. “Just ask around, 95% are for him,” said Rozabil.
Both men have their strengths and their weaknesses. Given that, the Prime Minister will have to tread a thin line in dealing with the tigers of Perlis.
Radzi: Enjoys the implicit trust of the Prime Minister
Shahidan: His feud with Radzi boiled over last month.
Syed Razlan: Claims his programmes are being sabotaged.
NOTA: Just to remind Radzi: Siapa di Perlis mahu anda? Atau itu semua tidak penting?