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Umno needs “independent monitoring”

PETALING JAYA, 23 Oct 2009: Money politics must be addressed through laws that allow independent investigations into the ethical conduct of political parties, including during party elections, said Universiti Malaya’s Prof Dr Edmund Terence Gomez.

But the political analyst told The Nut Graph in a telephone interview that he didn’t think Umno would try to take such oversight out of the party. “It would probably implicate too many party members and leaders,” he said.

Gomez was responding to Umno’s recent constitutional amendments, hailed by some party leaders as historic but criticised by others as lacking.

Noting that the culture of money politics was already too embedded in the party’s culture, structure and history, he said any structural reform of Umno had to be deeply rooted in order to be successful.

Gomez has published several notable books about the nexus between politics and business in Malaysia, and has charted developments in Barisan Nasional (BN) parties such as Umno and the MCA.

History of money politics

He said historically, former prime minister and party president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad took up the party’s leadership before the advent of money politics in the form of vote-buying during the general assembly.

“It was only in 1981, during the first contest for the deputy presidency between Tengku Razaleigh (Hamzah) and (Tun) Musa Hitam, that money politics began to emerge, and then continued to fester,” the academic said.

According to Gomez, this caused friction between Razaleigh and Musa, but Mahathir did not interfere in the matter. In 1987, however, Musa and Razaleigh combined forces to challenge Mahathir, and in that election the volume of money politics increased.

Mahathir was nearly defeated by Razaleigh, who managed to get 50% of the votes at the general assembly while only managing to muster nominations from 20% of Umno’s 192 divisions nationwide.

The party was then declared illegal in a court judgment, and splintered into the Mahathir-led Umno Baru and Razaleigh-led Semangat 46. This was when Mahathir instituted the 10-vote bonus in Umno Baru, where contestants for the party’s top offices would get bonus votes just for being nominated.

The system, according to Gomez, was an attempt to secure the position of the incumbent in party elections.

Gomez explained that in the 1993 party elections, because of the bonus-votes system that was in place, the system of depending on delegates was bypassed and money politics was spread to the grassroots level.

Ghafar Baba (Public domain)
In that election, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim defeated incumbent deputy president Tun Ghafar Baba by merely winning a combination of nominations from divisions and bonus votes.

Anwar’s so-called Wawasan Team also swept the three vice-president positions, comprising then Youth and Sports Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, then Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib, and then Defence Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

“Mahathir did what he could to stop money politics, but he might have unwittingly spread it further within the party by introducing the quota system,” Gomez explained.

Additionally, Gomez said Mahathir’s intentions in curbing money politics was not about democratising the party. “If Mahathir were a true democrat, he would have just opened up the party’s voting base to all members.”

Umno’s paradox

From Gomez’s perspective, Umno’s 60th general assembly from 15 to 16 Oct 2009 was also a “paradox”.

“Umno leaders such as (president Datuk Seri) Najib Razak and (Umno Youth chief) Khairy Jamaluddin know that in order to move forward, the party has no choice but to change,” he said.

Therefore, the speeches by Najib and Khairy stressed the importance of being inclusive towards other Malaysians as well.

“Najib and Khairy’s rhetoric is right, in that they are reading the mood on the ground. But their party members do not appear interested in the mood on the ground, only in what privileges they can get from the party and the state,” he said.

Delegates at the 60th Umno general assembly

Gomez said a similar paradox could be seen when Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over as prime minister in 2003 and as party president in 2004.

“Abdullah wanted to address corruption, and spoke about being more inclusive, but his party members were not behind him,” Gomez said.

He said eventually this is what also contributed to the BN’s huge losses during the March 2008 general election, and to Abdullah being pressured to step down as party president and prime minister.

“Umno does not seem to want to learn from its own history, whether it is about the election losses of 2008, or the growth of money politics from the 1980s,” Gomez said.

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