Umno leaders get a taste of their own medicine

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Malaysian Prime Minister and Umno President, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (Pak Lah), has rebuked Zaid Ibrahim, the Umno Kelantan head, for attacking the party’s disciplinary board.

On Tuesday, Zaid said that the Umno disciplinary board was acting outside the law when it found him guilty of using his agents to buy votes in Umno’s internal party elections last year. And he chose Parliament as his platform to sound out by interrupting another minister who was winding up a debate.

Yesterday, Pak Lah said Zaid should abide by the party’s disciplinary rules instead of openly questioning the decision. “That is not right. If they are not happy, they can appeal to the board. If they say things outside, that has no value. If we want to be leaders, we have to learn party discipline. Not only do we fight for the party, but we must also respect party discipline.”

“I don’t see any reason for him to criticise on the issue,” Pak Lah said, “Because such people are given the opportunity to make an appeal.”

Zaid, who owns one of Malaysia’s largest law firms, has threatened to quit politics. Unlike others who were found guilty of ‘money politics’, Zaid was not suspended from the party but was instead let off with a warning. And, unlike the others who accepted the decision without protest and quietly filed an appeal, Zaid has chosen to openly slam the decision of the disciplinary board.

“They do not have recognised and proper procedures but they seem to have the power of a court to accuse people of being involved in corrupt practices and then penalise them as criminals,” said Zaid.

“Will the government allow political parties like Umno to act without due process of law? If this continues, will it not affect the party as well as the government?” argued Zaid.

Umno’s disciplinary board is led by former foreign minister Tengku Ahmad Rithaudeen (Ku Din) and comprises of senior and veteran Umno leaders, most who are in the twilight of their political careers. It was set up by the party to investigate allegations of ‘money politics’, another word for corruption. The board has so far found 61 members guilty of vote buying in an ongoing probe that may rope in many more in time to come.

The way the board works is by interviewing complainants who raise allegations of dirty tactics committed by others. The interviews are done behind closed doors and few know who the complainants are and what evidence they may have submitted to support their allegations.

The results will then be announced in a press conference and this has led some Umno leaders to complain of being unfairly judged in secret trials in which they were never called to testify or allowed to defend themselves.

Ku Din, however, has defended the way the board conducts its business by saying that the work must be done behind closed doors. If not, then no one would dare bring charges of vote-buying against top leaders.

Vote buying has always been Umno’s culture since way back. Vote buying; now called money politics; has been going on since the 1980s and has been the practice during the general elections since the 1950s. Just ask any voter which political party he or she would vote for and you will receive the standard reply; the party that can ‘take care’ of us.

In Terengganu, the state that was held by the opposition for only one term, voters would find kain pelekat (piece of cloth) on their doorstep on polling day. Where the kain pelekat came from is apparent as a Barisan Nasional sticker would be attached to it.

As what Mustapha Ali of the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) said: votes do not cost much, all you need is one kain pelekat. Mustapha Ali’s constituency was one that was flooded with kain pelekat.

Malays do not cost much to buy.

Ku Din, the man given the most unpleasant task of heading Umno’s disciplinary board that will remove certain ‘threats’ to the top leadership under the guise of being guilty of money politics, is himself not innocent of money politics. In 1990, when he contested the Kota Bharu parliament seat, he walked all over town handing out RM50.00 notes to the voters. The voters referred this matter to Tok Guru Nik Aziz, the present Chief Minister of Kelantan, who advised the voters to accept the money but vote according to their conscience.

The voters then took the money but gave Ku Din RM4.00 in change. When Ku Din asked why they were giving him back RM4.00, they replied that they will only accept 46, not 50.

Semangat 46 won the Kota Bharu Parliament seat and Ku Din was sent into retirement.

Today, Ku Din’s job is to catch all those who indulge in vote buying. I suppose you need to send a thief to catch a thief and what better way to do it then give all those equally guilty of vote buying the task of sitting in a disciplinary board that is supposed to catch the vote buyers.

Zaid should not complain though. He has just been given a warning. The two others who were ‘put on trial’ together with him were suspended. Zaid, therefore, was given the lighter sentence. And many of his contemporaries, other heads of divisions and Parliamentarians, were suspended.

Now that Zaid has chosen to attack the party, this would give the disciplinary board more ammunition to use against him. Maybe on his latest ‘crime’, which has courted the displeasure of no less than the party president himself, the disciplinary board can finally sack him or, at the very least, suspend him from the party for a couple of years.