Ku Li's challenge forges ahead, but is there enough momentum?
Posted by Raja Petra
Saturday, 05 April 2008
(The Malaysian Insider) - The early morning drizzle did not dampen the buzz of anticipation in the hilly enclave of Balai Rakyat Bukit Cekati where the Gua Musang Umno extraordinary delegates meeting was held.
If the Gua Musang Umno division leader Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah could get more than 100 Umno divisions to attend this meeting, his push for an Umno EGM on May 11 would gain traction.
Among the delegates shuttled in by school buses, the word was that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad himself was going to turn up. In the event, the ex-prime minister was a no-show even as a helicopter flying overhead briefly drew excited attention. "Buat iklan saje…," smirked a cynical reporter.
For the newshounds, the list of VIP attendees did not inspire the headlines they were hungry for. While the full roster of Gua Musang division leaders made their presence felt, no other division chief turned up.
Among the 33 registered VIPs who made it were Datuk Tamrin Tun Ghafar; Mazlan Harun, son of ex-Selangor chief minister Datuk Harun Idris; and two Umno branch chiefs, from Bera, Pahang and Pasir Puteh, Kelantan.
Ku Li's personal assistant had told me the meeting was "open to all". The official tally showed 423 delegates from 191 Umno branches came, and the PA's own rough count of divisions represented was "about more than 40".
But an adviser to Ku Li made it clear that the event was an internal affair and no specific invitations had been made. "And as you can see, Bukit Cekati is not exactly the most easily accessible of locations," the adviser said.
Brushing aside the no-show of division chiefs (aside from Gua Musang obviously), he stressed that the strategy here was to inspire pressure from the grassroots, the Umno ranks-and-file. This bottom-up approach would hopefully gather Ku Li the requisite 50% support from the 191 Umno divisions to call for the EGM on May 11.
This proposed EGM ― ostensibly held to discuss the party's poor performance in the general election ― is widely expected to be the platform for Ku Li to call for a no-confidence vote of the party leadership and the removal of the quota of 30% of division nominations necessary to contest the post of party president.
The quota was one of Ku Li's primary tenets in his speech at the Bukit Cekati meeting where he analysed the party's weakenesses. He deemed this rule to be undemocratic, and blamed it for stemming progress and rejuvenation in the party.
In proposing for the abolishment of this quota, he also added another proposal – that there should be an internal party mechanism whereby party leaders in government positions could be criticised and disciplined should they enact government policies counter to the party's aims.
In short, Ku Li said "the party should control government", and "Umno members in government positions cannot be more powerful than the party".
Ku Li also drew comparisons to the way PAS had won the confidence of non-Malay voters. Umno, on the other hand, had somehow managed to be perceived by Malays as no longer defending their rights, and ironically, to be seen by non-Malays as solely preoccupied with upholding the rights of Malays.
Ku Li made reference to "Malay fanatics" who brandished the keris while scolding other races. Ultimately it was the party's image as a corrupt party that served "orang kaya di atas" and neglected the "orang miskin" at the bottom that repelled both Malay and non-Malay voters.
To this end Ku Li projected his desired vision of Umno as one that should be embraced by other races (the party's name nothwithstanding, one presumes).
Before addressing Umno's weaknesses directly, Ku Li had made references to several judicial issues that has severely damaged the credibility of a Barisan Nasional government. Inciting the Lingam video issue, the controversy over judicial appointments and certain on-going court cases that "need not be mentioned", Ku Li drew cheers for what can be interpreted as subtle swipes at certain BN leaders, past and present.
And it was in his final criticism of Umno that Ku Li seem to inveigh against the behaviour of select individuals within the party ― no names mentioned, of course.
He railed against the "arrogance" of an Umno parliamentary candidate who had announced that he wanted to ensure his election opponent would lose his deposit, and a candidate who told voters "I will become the chief minister".
In specific reference to the Umno campaign in Kelantan, Ku Li felt that the campaign war-cries and war-mongering attitudes did not reflect the conduct of cultured, civilised Malay Muslims.
Ku Li's final salvo was saved for "orang… lulusan dari Oxford, Harvard dan sebagainya," who were in his opinion, "tidak bijak, tidak pandai, tidak cerdik budaya".
He called for such individuals to be wiped out from the party because they did not possess the spirit of the Malay, that they were "not qualified to be leaders of a Malay Muslim race" which possessed "uniquely eastern values" that was necessary to be "understood by anyone who wants to be a Malay leader".
In his final analysis, Ku Li drew a line between the kind of brash leaders that he felt were dragging down Umno, and the kind that exemplified a more cultured and nuanced leadership. A subtler touch in handling the reins of power of which Ku Li himself is known for.