Andrew Ong, Malaysiakini.com
Nov 9, 07 11:44am
Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has dropped strong hints that the party’s position in Kelantan would be jeopardised, should he be dropped as a candidate in the upcoming general election. He has held the Gua Musang (once called Ulu Kelantan) parliamentary seat since 1974, but a newspaper report on Monday mentioned the possibility that he may not be allowed to defend his seat. Many have attributed his unbeaten streak to his popularity in the north-eastern state and to the loyalty that the Kelantan royal family enjoys.
Tengku Razaleigh, 70, is the uncle to the current sultanah and is often dubbed as a ‘prince-politician’. Speaking to several reporters on Wednesday, on the sidelines of the on-going Umno general assembly, Tengku Razaleigh was asked about the possibility that he could be dropped from the line-up for the next general election. It was then that he spoke of the influence he wields on politics in Kelantan. “I’m happy to go (if they drop me). But people in Kelantan are unique. They have pride. It might affect how they vote,” said Tengku Razaleigh, who had at one time spent 12 years as Umno Kelantan chief.
He said the upcoming battle in Kelantan between bitter rivals Umno and PAS is still too close to call. “Chances for Umno are (good). Much will depend on who leads Umno (Kelantan),” he said. The Umno hopeful for menteri besar appears to be state party chief Mohd Anuar Musa, who narrowly lost a bitterly fought election in 2004 against PAS led by its spiritual leader, Nik Aziz Nik Mat. Anuar won the Kok Lanas state seat in the last general election with a respectable majority, but Tengku Razaleigh believes that his appeal will not be enough to win the hearts of the majority. “He is less accepted by the people of Kelantan, including the Royal family. Nik Aziz’s appeal is not because he is a spiritual or PAS leader, but because he is seen as a true Kelantanese leader,” said Tengku Razaleigh.
However, he also said PAS does not have much to offer the Kelantanese compared to Umno. “Of course, they (PAS) will say there is no corruption, but this is because they have no money to start with. Then there is the Tok Guru factor,” he said, referring to the moniker for Nik Aziz who had headed the PAS government in Kelantan for four consecutive terms.
Whether or not Tengku Razaleigh remains an election candidate will be up to Umno president and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Both were buddies back in 1987 - they were leaders of the so-called ‘Team B’ in Umno which mounted an unsuccessful challenge against party boss Dr Mahathir Mohamad (photo). Abdullah opted to join Mahathir’s Umno Baru in 1988, while Tengku Razaleigh went his own way to form the opposition Semangat 46 a year later. Abdullah succeeded Mahathir as Umno president and prime minister in 2003.
Tengku Razaleigh rejoined Umno in 1996 but kept a low profile until 2004, where he offered himself as a candidate to challenge Abdullah for the top party post. But this fizzled out as Tengku Razaleigh’s Umno Gua Musang division was the only one which nominated him for the party presidency, leaving him with insufficient nominations to qualify for the contest.
A former finance minister, he is now concerned that the government is facing intractable problems with the judiciary, soaring inflation and smooth implementation of economic development projects - including the growth corridors - under the Ninth Malaysia Plan. He said some of these problems have arisen because Abdullah (photo) has to juggle with his duties as finance minister as well as internal security minister.
“He has no time. Each one of us has only 24 hours a day. He should delegate his work and if they (officials) cross the line, sack them,” he said. Tengku Razaleigh also said many Umno leaders are aware of the challenges faced by the government, but are unwilling to risk the consequences of criticising the government.
As for Umno’s future, he expressed confidence that new progressive leaders would eventually pave the way for change. “They are not looking for favours. They are educated and proud people. They are looking for change. I have confidence in them,” he said.
“But people like Khairy (Jamaluddin, Umno Youth deputy chief) are few. I hope Umno will attract more of such people.”