It takes a thief to catch a thief

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Yes, last week has certainly been an eventful week for Malaysia. Not only was Sothinathan, the Secretary-General of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), suspended from his government post for ‘opposing government policy’, but one of Umno’s Vice Presidents, Federal Territories Minister, Mohd Isa Abdul Samad, had his party membership suspended for six years on a charge of corruption.

This is what Bernama reported last Friday in its news item: BN leaders who oppose told to quit

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli Ghazali says Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders who disagree with the Government’s policies should give up their posts and make their voices heard outside the party.

“We can compromise or accept if the (BN) component parties do not sometimes share similar views as those expressed by the top leadership, but we will not tolerate those which affect government policies,” he said.

“…if we can’t accept our party policy, we only have two options, we quit and disagree later,” he said when asked to comment on Datuk S. Sothinathan’s suspension as Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister for breaking ranks in Parliament.

Speaking to reporters after the launch of a politeness campaign and the instilling of good values at a Felda scheme in Bersia, near Gerik, Thursday, Tajol Rosli said contradicting views between the component parties should not be heard in Parliament.

He said Sothinathan’s outburst in Parliament showed that he disagreed with the Government’s policies. “Those who disagree should have a private meeting with the Prime Minister, instead of voicing their disagreement in Parliament,” said Tajol Rosli who is also Chairman of the State Liaison Committee.

Tajol Rosli also viewed as firm the Prime Minister’s decision to suspend Sothinathan for three months on Wednesday, stressing that this should serve as a warning to all, including Umno leaders.

“Although the PM appears gentle, his decision yesterday was by far the firmest, and this is a warning not only to component parties but also Umno leaders.

“We can have different views but when it comes to party policies, we must follow….” he said at the event launched by Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim.

On Sothinathan’s case, Rais told reporters that the Prime Minister’s decision to suspend the Deputy Minister was praiseworthy.

“PM’s action should be commended. He is often seen as gentle and is always smiling, and some even perceive him as one who cannot be taken seriously.

“But his actions yesterday speak volumes of the Prime Minister. I take my hats off to him as he has shown that he is a firm leader,” said Rais.

He said the Prime Minister’s decision was also a warning for those wishing to fully exercise their rights to free speech and utter words that could cause the public to lose their trust and confidence towards the Government.

“We in the Cabinet are proud of the Prime Minister and we have seen Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu himself as MIC President had accepted the decision in good faith.” – Bernama

Yes, last week has certainly been an eventful week for Malaysia. Not only was Sothinathan, the Secretary-General of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), suspended from his government post for ‘opposing government policy’, but one of Umno’s Vice Presidents, Federal Territories Minister, Mohd Isa Abdul Samad, had his party membership suspended for six years on a charge of corruption.

The Anwar Ibrahim critics say six years is a long time to be able to make a political comeback. Well, this same ‘rule’ should apply to Mohd Isa (‘Isa’ means ‘Jesus’) as well I suppose, if there is any truth in that doctrine. Or do we have one rule for Anwar and the opposite for others?

It seems there are no less that seven ‘big fish’ altogether who will suffer the same fate as Mohd Isa and the whole town is buzzing as to who these other six are. So far no one is talking so your guess is as good as mine. But this does not stop the speculators from drawing up their own list which includes the other two Vice Presidents: Muhyiddin Mohd Yassin and Mohd Ali Mohd Rustam.

Deputy Prime Minister and Umno Deputy President Mohd Najib Tun Razak said the ‘vacancies’ in the Umno Vice Presidency will not be filled, in reference to Mohd Isa’s suspension. Therefore, if Muhyiddin and Mohd Ali go as well, then this would mean Umno would no longer have any Vice Presidents left, assuming it is true that these two are also on the chopping block.

The rumours say the others on the suspension list are Muhammad Mohd Taib, Dr. Mohamed Khir Toyo, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Musa Aman, Ir. Mohd Zin Mohamed, Dr. Jamaludin Mohd Jarjis, Tengku Putera Tengku Awang, Mohd Shafie Apdal, Rahim Tamby Chik, Dr. Awang Adek Hussin, Abdul Aziz Shamsuddin, Dr. Hilmi Yahaya, Dr. Norraesah Mohamad, and a couple more.

This would make about 20 or so, certainly more than the seven that everyone says are due for ‘retirement’.

Apparently, today, the Umno headquarters will be revealing all, so no need to hold your breath. But what is more important to note is, first, all these are Umno’s top guns. This would mean Umno, just like PAS recently, will see most of its Old Guard exit, allowing a clear path for the younger generation to take over.

Is this going to see Umno engulfed in a new crisis? It has not even got over its earlier crisis of 1998 yet. Maybe not! What we may see instead is a rejuvenated Umno and a party that is going to emerge stronger than before. So the opposition had better not celebrate just yet. What we are about to see is not an Umno in trouble but a recharged Umno that will be perceived as serious about cleaning up corruption within its ranks. This can only augur well for Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (Pak Lah) and not the reverse.

Secondly, some of those 20 or so mentioned above are perceived as pro-Anwar (once upon a time in Anwar’s ‘Team Wawasan’) plus some considered a threat to Pak Lah and his son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin. Their removal would mean Pak Lah can rest easy and Khairy can start planning his next 11 or 12 years career progression with no worries that these plans would be thwarted by the Old Guard and Umno Warlords.

A brilliant move indeed if I may be allowed to say so.

Najib is actually quite worried about this latest development and on Friday he held a meeting with many of those chopped or targeted to be chopped; mainly ‘his people’. They suspect this move is not merely ‘house cleaning’ but a purge of those who could pose an obstacle to Pak Lah and his son-in-law. In the end, how many of these 20 actually go and whether only the ‘anti-Pak Lah’ faction is chopped while the pro-Pak Lah group is spared would reveal whether this worry is justified or not.

Of further concern to Najib is Mohd Isa’s line of defence. While Isa denied buying votes, he did not deny dishing out ‘petrol money’. And he defends his actions by arguing that Najib said in Kota Bharu prior to the Umno General Assembly that this was allowed. Subsidising the delegates’ petrol money is okay as long as you are not buying votes.

State Executive Councillor and Raub Umno division chief, Shahiruddin Ab Moin, one of the victims of the purge, was the most vocal at that Friday meeting with Najib. He felt that this move, which was forecasted a month ago, is the prelude to a massive cabinet shake-up which will involve the replacement of a few Chief Ministers as well. Selangor, Kedah and Perlis are likely candidates with Melaka and Sabah strong possibilities as well.

Anyway, the reason why people seem able to ‘accurately pinpoint’ these 20 or so is because everyone knows that there was a tremendous amount of vote-buying in the run-up to the last Umno General Assembly and everyone knows who they are and what was the going rate for the votes they were buying.

This was what Malaysia Today wrote on 26 August 2004:

The going rate for the vote buying is between RM300 to RM1,000 depending on whether you are satisfied with just getting in or you want to be in the top ten. This means all aspirants must be ready with between RM300,000 to RM1,000,000, and double that if you aspire to be in the top ten. For the top posts, such as the Vice Presidency, you will need to spend anything up to RM3 million.

And who are these Umno leaders involved in corruption and what is the rate they are paying for the votes?

Muhammad Mohd Taib who is going for a Vice Presidency and wants to be the top scorer is paying RM1,000 per vote. He has set aside RM3 million for his shopping spree.

Dr. Mohamed Khir Toyo, the Selangor Chief Minister, is also paying RM1,000 per vote, as are Dr. Jamaludin Mohd Jarjis, Astaman Aziz, Mohd Ali Mohd Rustam, Mohd Isa Abdul Samad, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, and Musa Aman, the Sabah Chief Minister.

Mohd Shafie Apdal, Abdul Aziz Shamsuddin, Anifah Aman, Lajim Ukim, and Ir. Mohd Zin Mohamed are all paying RM300.

Dr. Hilmi Haji Yahaya, Dr Awang Adek Husin and Tengku Putera Tengku Awang are paying RM200 while Dr. Norraesah Mohamad is paying RM150 plus handing out copies of her biography.

Everyone knew this way back in August last year but it took Umno’s Disciplinary Board ten months to finally get to the bottom of it. And if they really want to reel in all the ‘big fish’ then it certainly has to be more than just seven. It is more like 20, Pak Lah’s men included — unless you want to only go for Najib’s men.

Earlier this year, the Member of Parliament for Kota Bharu, Zaid Ibrahim, was found guilty of corruption but was let off with just a warning. On 13 April 2005 he raised the matter in Parliament and lambasted the Umno Disciplinary Board for ‘acting outside the law’. For this outburst Zaid has now been suspended for three years.

So, from the Sothinathan and Zaid episodes the message is very clear, ‘u must not oppose’ (or u.m.n.o for short) and if you do then the heavy hand will come down hard on you.

What is ironical in Zaid’s case is that the Umno Disciplinary Board chairman, Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen Tengku Ismail (Ku Din), was also once the Member of Parliament for Kota Bharu. In 1990, when Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s Semangat 46 teamed up with the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) to take on Umno in Kelantan, Ku Din walked all over town handing out RM50 notes to the voters.

At first the voters would not accept the money. They then went to meet Tok Guru Nik Aziz and Tok Guru said they can accept the money but this does not mean they must vote for Umno. So they accepted Ku Din’s offer of RM50 but gave him back RM4. When Ku Din asked why give him back RM4, they replied because they only want 46.

Invariably, Ku Din lost his pants in that election and Semangat 46 swept the state in partnership with PAS. And now this same Ku Din is heading the Board that is trying to clean up Umno’s vote buying problem. The Malays say, ‘suruh kambing jaga sireh’. I suppose the English on the other hand would say, ‘send a thief to catch a thief’. Do the Chinese, Indians, Bajaus, Kadazans, Melanaus, Dayaks, Penans, etc., have any of their own sayings for this?