Monday, November 24, 2008

Can Dr Mahathir cure Umno of money politics?

Umno has already nominated the candidates who will contest party elections for every post from the deputy president downwards. Unfortunately, there's more than four months of campaigning before the actual polls itself.

The reason for the delay is Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Abdullah has declined nominations for the Umno presidency but he still wants to be Prime Minister until March so the party's supreme council, not without reservations, postponed the polls to that month while allowing nominations to begin in September.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is already premier-elect because no one secured enough nominations to challenge him for the presidency. But there are fights everywhere else with three candidates jostling for the deputy presidency; eight for the three vice-presidential posts; and contests for both the head of the Youth and Women's wings - unseen in Umno for a long, long time.

Some might say that this is a healthy development for a political party that claims to champion democracy. But this is Umno - where money politics has been on the rise since the late 1980s. The fear is that a successful candidate may actually have been the best that money can buy and it is a concern that is grounded in not inconsiderable evidence.

Most of the evidence is anecdotal but it is widely believed. Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen, a former foreign minister and current head of the party's disciplinary committee, has labelled the party "sick" and in need of "strong medication".

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad thinks that he knows the medication required. Writing in his blog last week, Dr Mahathir threatened to publicly reveal the people whom he alleges are involved in money politics.

There is considerable irony is his threat. It was under his 22-year tenure that corruption flourished and took root within the party. Dr Mahathir tried with words to root it out - scolding, cajoling, imploring, begging, even crying on occasion. He would have been better served by coming down hard on offenders, using some of his formidable powers that he amassed when he was premier.

Be that as it may, Dr Mahathir, 82, is now fed up and thinks that the time is ripe for stern action. He has proposed to do several things. He said that all reports on money politics submitted to him would be forwarded to the Umno disciplinary committee and the Anti-Corruption Agency. "If these two means are futile, I will reveal the names of those involved together with reports in my blog," he wrote.

Dr Mahathir has already endorsed both Najib and International Trade Minister and Umno vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin for Umno president and deputy respectively. But Muhyiddin faces a two-cornered challenge from Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Ali Rustam and Land and Regional Development Minister Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib. Both are candidates whom Dr Mahathir scornfully described as "jokers" before they received enough nominations to qualify as aspirants to the post of deputy president.

His appraisal of them didn't stop them from receiving quite decent support for a deputy presidential bid. Truth be told, there are no lack of stories about most aspirants - except Najib, who does not have to - judiciously using money to help their causes.

There is only one thing wrong with the former premier's threat. He is an interested party as his youngest son Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir is among three candidates eyeing the Umno Youth chief's post. So he will have to be seen as impartial and come out with everything he knows or risk a backlash with those he named pointing fingers elsewhere.

That could be a disaster for a party that's trying to regroup and re-invent itself for the future. But that's just the talk. There has been no corresponding walk and Umno has shown no desire to change. Who knows? Dr Mahathir's "surgery" may be just what the doctor ordered. - Business Times Singapore

source: Can Dr Mahathir cure Umno of money politics?
The Malaysian Insider, Malaysia