The year 2009 began with the chairman of Umno’s disciplinary board, Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen, proposing a radical (or desperate) solution to reduce rampant money politics in Umno — get rid of its Youth and Puteri wings! The Umno elite, Datuk Seri Najib Razak included, found the proposal ridiculous and rejected it.
Datuk Zaid Ibrahim advised Tengku Rithauddeen to retire and resign from the board since his efforts in reining in corruption in Umno had proven to be futile. Lim Kit Siang went one step further saying, as a result of Tengku Rithauddeen’s failure to weed out corruption, the whole of Umno should be uprooted altogether!
On Jan 30, 2009, a group of Umno Youth members protested against both Tengku Rithauddeen for his proposal and also the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for its intervention in “party matters”. It rattled Tengku Rithauddeen so much that he resignedly replied: “We will do our job; MACC will do theirs.”
In March, two Umno members threatened to apply for an injunction to postpone the Umno general assembly until all allegations of money politics were investigated. They highlighted their report on the misuse of power on the (then) PM and Deputy PM and the more than 1,000 reports of graft in Umno.
Nine days before the Umno elections, the disciplinary board barred Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Mohd Ali Rustam from contesting the post of party deputy president after three of his “agents” were allegedly found guilty of being involved in money politics in the run-up to the elections.
But Ali continued as an Umno member and CM. Even Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was stumped by this: “Isa was thrown out because he was involved in money politics… he also lost his position as a minister. But here we have a very strange decision. He was found to be corrupt but he can remain as the Chief Minister…”
Khairy Jamaluddin, who was a candidate for the post of Umno Youth head, was also found “guilty” by the board, but was only given a warning. He won the post and was heckled by an Umno mob who yelled “Khairy! Rasuah!” and “Penipu!” during his acceptance speech.
Another candidate for the post of Umno Youth head, Datuk Seri Mohamad Khir Toyo, was cleared by the board of all corruption charges. People expected Khir to be found clean, or Umno would be without an opposition leader in Selangor of his calibre and he would not look good in his new role as a “champion of good governance”!
Several MBs and CMs who lost in the party elections blamed it on money politics. They claimed that delegates seemed more drawn to the “distribution of gifts” than what they had done for their states. (Only one of the MBs and CMs succeeded in securing a place on the 25-seat supreme council.)
It was also time for Pak Lah to retire. As a parting shot to the party that ended his presidency/premiership prematurely he warned that “…materialism has seeped into the party, making a number of party members greedy and avaricious, hence creating the negative perception that Umno is a corrupt party”.
When setting up his new Umno supreme council Najib sought to be “inclusive” — he included the losers in the Umno elections and whose integrity had been questioned such as Tengku Adnan Mansor (of V.K. Lingam video clip fame), Ali (money politics) and Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz (approved permits)!
In April, Najib became the PM. Many agreed with the assessment of Tengku Aziz — a former chairman of Transparency International — of Najib’s People’s Cabinet, as a team “totally uninspiring (and) of recycled political expendables, many with personal records of integrity that will not bear close scrutiny.”
Indeed, Najib’s supposed strong resolve to start afresh with his new Cabinet was in reality a successful spin by his camp for about 80 per cent of those appointed ministers were spent characters, self-seeking sycophants with stained records, or what Dr M called “unsavoury characters”.
Umno’s anti-corruption charade continued in full force. In August, Umno fielded a disbarred lawyer in the Permatang Pasir by-election. It prompted Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah to ask: “Is Umno so short of people that we have to find a lawyer disbarred for financial dishonesty to stand?”
In October, Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad became Umno’s candidate in the Bagan Pinang by-election. Najib’s nebulous defence of the decision was that “the offence committed by Isa was not an offence under the law”. The Chief Commissioner of the MACC had in January 2009 declared categorically that “money politics is corruption”!
The DAP’s Wong Ho Leng gives an accurate implication of Isa’s win: “Isa’s win would translate into an endorsement of corruption within Umno and the government that it leads. It lays bare the fact that Umno has no better leader to win a by-election than one who has been condemned by Umno itself to have been corrupt.”
PKR’s Azmin Ali sarcastic take on Isa’s victory was that Umno does not have to do any reform nor worry about money politics anymore. They can still win anyhow!
Consider columnist M. Bakri Musa’s invaluable insight: “To Umno folks, the party has replaced Allah as the source of bounty and benevolence… Corrupt leaders are forgiven not by Allah but by the party. Isa Samad had his political corruption sentence reduced, and then he was rewarded to be the party’s election candidate. Khairy had his ‘money politics’ conviction essentially pardoned, and then blessed by being head of Umno Youth”!
The year ended with Dr M quoting in his blog a former senior Umno leader’s lamentation: “Umno is rotten to the core. It is rotten from its lowest level to the highest. What’s left are remnants of people with self-interest who still hope of being rewarded for supporting Umno. They are not nationalists and cannot be trusted.” According to Dr M, this leader intended to jump ship to PAS! — aliran
* Martin Jalleh is a well known political commentator and writer.
* This article is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.