Warlords: the power and the myth

Every state has its own warlords and they are very efficient in consolidating their power base.

What Najib is doing now is to visit each and every state in Malaysia to see and choose himself the “winnable candidates”, thus by-passing the warlords. These will be his candidates who will be beholden to him alone. However, his move is watched closely by the warlords.

Selena Tay, Free Malaysia Today

In the Malaysian political scenario, there is a myth that it is the warlords who wield great political power. Before Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak can declare war, he needs to first successfully fulfil two conditions:

Build up an abundant war chest; and obtain the backing of all the warlords.

The first condition he has fulfilled but the second poses a major problem. This is because he has somehow failed to secure the co-operation of the warlords. The problem began with the previous Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who rose to power without the backing of the warlords. And likewise for Najib whose prime ministership was handed over to him by Abdullah. In fact, the warlord problem has now become more acute.

Every state has its own warlords. These warlords are very efficient in consolidating their power base. Who is their power base? None other than the rural folks. That is why the Umno-elected representative has to attend every birth, marriage and death (sometimes referred to as hatch, match and dispatch) event in their constituency.

The Umno man knows his constituents very well – their history, their illnesses, right down to the names of their children and pets. That is why he can build rapport with the rural folks who will support him even if there is a rumour that he has misappropriated funds. This is because the rural folks’ thinking is: “he has attended my son’s wedding, if he has done anything wrong, let the courts try him or God judge him but I shall not forget his good deed for me and I will continue to vote for him”. And that is why Umno continues to get rural support. The same goes for the MCA or MIC guy. The philosophy of the rural folks is the same regardless of race or religion.

Besides attending the events mentioned above, these warlords also help the rural folks’ children secure jobs by calling up the companies or organisations in their constituency or state and arranging jobs for the children of the rural folks, whether they are graduates, skilled or unskilled. Thus, the rural folks and their children are beholden to the warlords. Everyone depends on the warlords for everything especially in the rural areas – from getting the warlord’s signature for land conversion to obtaining a place in the local university.

That is why some companies employ 10 people to do a job that can be handled by three persons and this is due to the warlords doing of securing jobs for his people; at least seven extra people are needed to approve a petty claims voucher. In this way, the warlord manages to obtain undying support from the people who will forever be loyal to him as he was the one who got them a job.

If you were to visit Felda settlements and ask the settlers to vote the opposition, they will shake their head vehemently while at the same time declare: “Saya undi Pak Abdul, dia dacing, dacing baik.” (English translation: I will vote Pak Abdul, he is from BN, he is good.)

Simple philosophy

All races in the rural areas support the BN warlord due to this system which has been perpetuated for as long as anyone can remember. BN’s support in the rural areas has been ingrained deep into the soul of the rural voters’ simple thinking and simple philosophy.

When people join BN, they will be able to obtain jobs, projects and contracts due to the politics of patronage of “I help you and you vote for me”. It is difficult to break this politics of patronage and rent-seeking because it is tied to the people’s daily existence. These people also make a donation to the warlord when he helps them and in this way the warlord builds up his war chest. Therefore, everyone aims to be a warlord as the package deal includes fame, money and power.

Speaking to the rural voters about the GST, GDP and NPL (non-performing loans) is alien language as the rural folks look to the BN warlord for their daily needs such as a road that needs tarring here and there or a road that needs street-lighting. The rural folks do not bother about GST and such stuff. Anything they need, they only need to call on their warlord.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak wants to call for an election before the opposition Pakatan Rakyat gain more ground due to Anwar Ibrahim’s acquittal, but Najib himself is in difficulty because he is unable to field his own “winnable candidates” due to the warlords’ grip on the constituencies and states. For example in this state called “XYZ state”, Najib has his own list of candidates but the Umno warlord has his own list of candidates too and the warlord’s list does not match Najib’s. The warlord wants to put his own men who are loyal to him only while Najib wants to put his own loyalists. Thus, there is a clash. The same scenario is also repeated in other states as well.

Although the rural folks support BN, Najib wants his own man there, not the warlord’s man. If Najib puts his own man, then the warlord’s supporters may not support Najib’s man. Therefore, Najib’s man will find it difficult to win and that is why Najib is calling for unity within Umno and he has stressed the issue of unity time and time again, especially in the Umno general assembly late last year. Najib needs unity in Umno so that his choice of candidate is supported as he knows that there are many cliques, factions and warlords in Umno who could wreck havoc on his plans.

As getting the support of the warlords is difficult, Najib has moved away slightly from his support base (rural Malays) to gain the support of the non-Malays via the 1Malaysia slogan to balance off the power of the warlords. At the same time, he has cunningly supported some ultra-Malay NGOs to maintain the Malayness of his agenda. Still, the warlords, namely the fat, chubby ones from the south who have a dull expression are not really supportive of his 1Malaysia slogan as they know that it is his ploy to get support from the non-Malays to offset their power.

What Najib is doing now is to visit each and every state in Malaysia to see and choose himself the “winnable candidates”, thus by-passing the warlords. These will be his candidates who will be beholden to him alone. However, his move is watched closely by the warlords.