Tuesday, October 21, 2008

RAZALEIGH: He's missed the bus, it would seem

POLITICAL veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is hoping for a miracle as he has yet to receive a single nomination for the Umno presidency after Week 2 of the party's divisional meetings.

The peak of the mountain he is scaling seems to be beyond reach for the 71-year-old Gua Musang member of parliament, leading many to suggest that he abandon his quest.

With the series of divisional meetings coming to the halfway stage, the answer to the big question of whether he can marshall enough support to contest the Umno president's post is as clear as daylight, especially with Datuk Seri Najib Razak already chugging past the qualifying quota of 58 nominations on Sunday.

History is repeating itself. Tengku Razaleigh, the Kelantan prince who has been on a political roller-coaster for so many years, is fighting a lost cause, yet again.

Should he concede defeat before the qualifying round ends on Nov 9?
His supporters say he should not. They have Plan B -- a change in strategy -- to garner support from the remaining 126 divisions yet to hold their meetings.

The former finance minister, despite not having a significant power base since the height of his clout 20 years ago, still commands respect and loyalty from party members.

This was reflected by attempts by his diehard supporters in several divisions to nominate him for the No 1 party post at division meetings. But it has been nothing but disappointment for Tengku Razaleigh all the way.

Even the Batu Pahat division, in which he had high hopes of being nominated, followed the tide and nominated Najib instead.

So was the case of Machang, Bachok and a couple of others; proposals for him, which came from the floor, were shot down after being put to a vote by show of hands.

All indications are that the wave pushing Najib to the top of the party's hierarchy is too strong to check.

There is a theory that Tengku Razaleigh's chances of getting nominated would be higher if selection was carried out through secret ballot.

Is this really the case?

Tengku Razaleigh tried his luck in 2004 to challenge Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, but did not qualify to contest as only his Gua Musang division nominated him.

He took on former president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the epic contest of 1987 and was defeated by a mere 43 votes.

The infighting continued and Umno was subsequently declared illegal. Tengku Razaleigh went ahead to set up the now defunct splinter party, Semangat 46.

While many are still unable to forget his role in making Semangat 46 an ally of the opposition, helping Pas topple the Barisan Nasional goverment in his home state of Kelantan in 1990, there is now renewed anger among Umno members over his meetings with opposition leaders, including Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Even at the time when Abdullah was contemplating defending the Umno presidency, there were doubts whether Tengku Razaleigh could get the requisite number of nominations.

Now with Abdullah out of the picture and Abdullah's anointed successor, Najib, the contender, the path is still dark for him.

The most charitable of observers have admitted that the 2004 rebuff was the final signal that his ambition to lead Umno and become prime minister was over.

He, in fact, admitted after his failed attempt that his bid then was his last.

"I will not offer myself to contest (the presidency), I will be too old ," he was quoted by the New Straits Times as saying, after he conceded defeat following the overwhelming nominations received by Abdullah to become the sixth Umno president.

A chunk of Umno's 3.2 million members today cannot relate to Tengku Razaleigh due to a generation gap. Many of those in his era had either forgotten the roles he played in boosting Malaysia's economy or are no longer involved in active politics at grassroots level.

But Tengku Razaleigh still appeals to a section of Umno; he continuously reassures the Malays that their special rights are protected under the Federal Constitution and has no qualms attacking Umno members for their arrogance and addiction to power and patronage.

In his eyes, Umno is no longer struggling for Malay rights.

It is not concerned over the economic well-being of the poor in the community.

He is an accomplished man but, as many within Umno circles will agree, his time in Umno has long passed.

SOURCE: He's missed the bus, it would seem New Straits Times