Who appointed you PM anyway?

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is Malaysia’s Prime Minister, paramount leader to 25 million or so Malaysians. And just how paramount is a Malaysian Prime Minister? Well, this can be better explained by an incident involving the first King and the first Prime Minister soon after Merdeka (independence) in 1957.

A foreign dignitary wanted to meet the Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. However, the Tunku refused to see him. Later, when this foreign dignitary met the King, Tuanku Abdul Rahman, he complained about this and suggested that Tuanku sack the Tunku. Tuanku replied that in Malaysia it is the Prime Minister who removes the King and not the other way around.

That is how paramount a Malaysian Prime Minister is. The fact that the Prime Minister also holds the position of Home Affairs Minister means he is also the man who signs the papers to detain any Malaysian under the Internal Security Act (ISA) at will. And the government needs no evidence to detain one under the ISA. Just the belief or opinion that one is probably or suspected to be a threat to national security, or is harbouring thoughts of one day, in the future, of becoming a threat to national security is sufficient enough to justify one’s detention without trial.

In short, a Malaysian Prime Minister holds power of life and death over every Malaysian as well as foreigner who touches foot on Malaysian soil, the ten rulers included. And the courts have no business in interfering in this decision. The ISA is above the judicial system.

But who gives him this power? Who appoints him the Prime Minister? Well, for sure, it is not the voters who elect the government every four or five years during Malaysia’s general elections.

The man who becomes prime minister is he who leads the political party that holds the majority seats in Parliament. Currently, there are four parties of any significance that stand any chance of making a dent in the elections — Barisan Nasional (BN), the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) and the Peoples’ Justice Party (PKR).

BN, however, has the edge, as it is a coalition of 14 parties; while DAP, PAS and PKR are ‘independents’. Although PAS and PKR may be in a coalition, Barisan Alternatif, it is a loose or informal coalition with no legal entity — so their seats would not be taken as a bloc as in the case of BN which is a legally registered party.

In short, BN could win only 40% of the seats in Parliament while DAP, PAS and PKR could win 20% of the seats each. However, BN will form the government as DAP’s, PAS’ and PKR’s 20% would not be taken as a combined 60%. Therefore, BN, at 40%, would legally hold more seats than DAP’s, PAS’ and PKR’s 20% each.

Until and unless the opposition parties legally register an opposition coalition, they would never be able to form the government, never mind how many seats they win.

Since BN holds the majority seats in Parliament, then BN would form the government and the BN Chairman would become the Prime Minister. And the man who becomes BN’s Chairman would be Umno’s President. It is more or less an automatic thing.

Just to digress a bit, in 1987, when Umno was declared illegal by the court and subsequently deregistered by the Registrar of Societies, the President of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) took over as the BN Chairman since Umno was no longer in existence and therefore no longer a member of BN. Dr Mahathir Mohamad, though no longer a President of any political party but merely an ‘independent’ Member of Parliament, continued as Prime Minister.

Actually, the MCA President should have taken over as Prime Minister since he was now the Chairman of BN.

Later, a new party called Umno Baru was formed and it applied to join BN as a new party (not ‘rejoin’, mind you). At the BN meeting held at the PWTC chaired by the MCA President, BN approved Umno’s application to join the coalition and, at the same time, appointed the protem President of Umno Baru, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, as the new BN Chairman.

It must be noted that membership to BN has to be unanimously agreed by all the coalition members and if just one party opposed the application then Umno Baru would not have been admitted into BN — and Dr Mahathir would no longer be the Prime Minister and instead the MCA President would. But if they tried that guess what would have happened? The fact that the army was placed on ‘red alert’ thwarted any ideas anyone may have had of planning a coup.

Anyway, back to the issue, the Umno President automatically becomes the BN Chairman, and therefore the Prime Minister of Malaysia. But who appoints the Umno President?

The Umno President is appointed by about 2,500 delegates representing 191 Umno divisions throughout Peninsula Malaysia plus Sabah who attend the Umno Annual General Assembly. Sarawak does not have any Umno divisions, if not the number would be 222 and the delegates about 2,800.

The 2,500 delegates do not really have any say in electing their President though because, prior to that, once every three years, division meetings would be held to propose and second candidates for the Umno Presidency and Deputy Presidency. However, for almost 20 years now, Umno has maintained a policy of ‘no contest’ for both its President and Deputy President.

In last year’s Umno General Assembly, there was an attempt by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah to break this tradition when he made a bid to challenge Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for the Umno Presidency. Though he managed to receive more than enough nominations to make his bid valid, they were all blocked by the division heads, except of course for that of his own division of Gua Musang.

In short, the 2,500 delegates really have no say in the matter and it is the 191 division heads who determine what goes. Nominations are controlled at the division level even before it reaches the General Assembly. Which means, in short, 191 Malaysian Malays determine who becomes Malaysia’s Prime Minister; not the 2,500 Umno delegates, not the 3.5 million Umno members, not the 5 million BN members, and certainly not the 9 or 10 million Malaysian voters.

Now do you understand why one would pay millions to secure a post of division head? And every division head has to pay to win or hold his seat.

Frightening isn’t it? And even when the Prime Minister’s party gets deregistered and he is no longer BN’s Chairman, he can still stay on as Prime Minister, as long as the army is behind him, as history has proven.