Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dr Mahathir to play the race card?


Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has quit Umno but his attacks against his successor are unlikely to cease and he may even resort to Malay issues to get his way.

TENGKU Razaleigh Hamzah was in Kedah the day his former nemesis Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was speaking at a Malay function in Alor Star.

The charismatic Kelantan prince had two speaking engagements that Monday. At his first stop in Sungai Petani in the morning, a member of the audience said Umno was like a bus going down a hill since the elections and he wanted to know whether the problem was the driver, the engine or the terrain.

Goodbye Umno: The reaction to Dr Mahathir's resignation has been explosive, widespread and even emotional because he is, after all, the most towering living figure Umno has ever had.

Tengku Razaleigh's answer drew as much amusement as the question.
“If you are nervous about the way the bus is being driven, you should ask the driver to stop and let you off,” he said.

By the time he turned up at his second speaking appointment in Alor Star in the afternoon, news of Dr Mahathir's shock resignation was all over town.

This time, the royal politician had his audience tickled pink when he said: “Someone had earlier compared Umno to a poorly driven bus, so I suggested he get out of the bus if he does not feel confident. I did not expect Tun Mahathir to be the first to jump off the bus. I know Tun Mahathir is angry with the driver but I didn’t know he was that angry.”

Then he added, with a mischievous grin, that the bus was still quite new because Dr Mahathir had personally designed it in 1988.

Power struggle

He was, of course, referring to the 1987 power struggle between him and Dr Mahathir, the subsequent dissolution of Umno and Dr Mahathir's formation of Umno Baru, that is, the current Umno, in 1988.

Madhzir: Even in football, when your team loses, they criticise you, what more when you lose a state.

Tengku Razaleigh, as most people would know, has no intention of alighting from the Umno bus because while Dr Mahathir is trying to get rid of the driver, Tengku Razaleigh is vying to be the new driver.

But he is, by most accounts, having difficulty trying to get the licence to drive the bus.
Kedah, like the other states now under the Pakatan Rakyat, has been a political hotbed. The mood here is a little more complex than elsewhere.

“You have to remember this state has produced two prime ministers. So you can imagine how humiliating it is for us to lose power,” said Pendang Umno division chief Datuk Rozai Shafian.
Or as former Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid put it: “Even in football, when your team loses, they will criticise you. What more, when you lose the state. As leaders we have to take it in our stride.”

It has made Kedah a prime fishing ground for support in the Umno elections at the end of the year.

And, like it or not, alternative voices like Dr Mahathir and Tengku Razaleigh have been drawing the crowds. Umno members want answers to the political situation and if they cannot get it from established political figures, they go looking to alternative sources.

Tengku Razaleigh: Did not expect Dr Mahathir to be the first to jump off the Umno bus.
As such, it was no surprise Dr Mahathir chose Alor Star as the venue to announce his resignation. The reaction has been explosive, widespread and even emotional among some quarters. He is, after all, the most towering living figure that Umno has ever had and for several days, it was the only thing that people in Umno talked about.

“Tun Mahathir was a walking time bomb and the time bomb has exploded,” said Rozai.
And now that the dust has somewhat settled, the reasons behind Dr Mahathir's resignation are a little clearer.

It was certainly not a decision made on the spur of the moment, as some have suggested, nor was it engineered. But it was a very tactical move.

The circle around Dr Mahathir admitted the former Premier had been contemplating the drastic move even when he was in Johor last week. But they did not think he would do it so immediately.

The seasoned politician probably saw his moment in Alor Star on Monday when a member in the audience who happened to be a PAS member popped the question.

“It’s Dr Mahathir’s shock and awe tactic,” said long-time Mahathir observer Datuk A. Kadir Jasin.

Dr Mahathir had begun by taking his cause against Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to the upper echelons of Umno. He also tried to instigate Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak against Abdullah.

All that did not produce the desired result, so he has decided to reach down to the lowest denomination of the Umno grassroots, that is, the branch level.

It was a calculated and tactical act and his aim was not to get people to follow him out because he has been around enough to know that would not happen.

According to long-time admirer Zakhir Mohamed, it was probably the doctor's idea of “shock treatment,” and to get the party grassroots to think hard and act accordingly.

“Tun Mahathir has always done things you don't expect. He is forever going against the current. Throughout his 22 years as Prime Minister, he swam against the current but I think this time, the current is against him. He is 82, he is no longer the PM and people are fed-up with his vendetta against Pak Lah,” said Rozai.

Poor response

Quite understandably, his resignation went down badly with the party veterans who grew up with Umno and who intend to “die in Umno”.

“The trouble with Tun Mahathir is that nobody can ever meet his standards. He had trouble with his predecessors as well as successors. He dislikes Pak Lah but rejecting Umno is an odd and complicated way of achieving his objective,” said Kelantan Umno Veterans chairman Datuk Rozali Isohak,

A day after resigning, Dr Mahathir left for the annual Nikkei Conference in Tokyo. He and Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali planned to spend a few days in Hakone, a resort town at the foot of Mount Fuji famed for its hot springs.

While he was away, the party scrambled to do damage control, ensure that its membership and hierarchy remains intact and its majority in Parliament unaffected. Generally, the party has stood by Abdullah.

“We cannot allow Tun Mahathir to set a precedent whereby the party president can be simply thrown out of the window,” said Rozai.

He will be back on Monday, refreshed from his hot springs vacation and, according to his admirers, ready for another hot round of politics.

Few expect him to clamp up even though he is no longer an Umno member.
“I see him reaching out to the wider Malay audience and going beyond Umno issues,” said Kadir.
In fact, it is likely he will start to air ultra Malay issues such as special rights of the Malays, Malay political power and even Malay hegemony. These are issues close to the Malay heart but which non-Malays will inevitably view as racial.

He is very astute. He has read the hidden feelings in Umno very well since the electoral defeats. The right-of-centre group in Umno has been deeply unhappy over what they view as an erosion of Malay power in the political equation.

He provided some hint of this when speaking in Johor a week ago. He said if Umno did not speak up, Malays would lose their rights and other races would take over.

In other words, one cannot discount Dr Mahathir using such Malay issues to sway the Umno grassroots to his side and against the leadership. He knows he will lose his non-Malay admirers but it looks like he is prepared to work up the conservative Malay ground in Umno in order to further his crusade against Abdullah.

People thought he had played his ultimate hand when he quit Umno but more stunning moves may lie ahead.