Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Too small an electoral college


Malaysians should no longer accept two anomalies of life here: the fact that the 2,000 men, fed and fattened on patronage, who pick the prime minister of the country and Malaysia's top two leaders come from a damaged political party.

There may have been a time when Umno politicians merited the respect shown to them by the public and the standing afforded to them by their political partners.

Those were the days when a large majority of Malays supported the political party and their leaders – Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, Tun Hussein Onn and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad - enjoyed the wide embrace of Malaysians.

Those were the days when candidates from the party formed a clear majority in Parliament, and owned the allegiance of Chinese, Indian and non-Malay bumiputeras in Sabah and Sarawak.

Not anymore. Analysis of the general election results shows that Umno no longer can claim bragging rights of speaking for the Malays. The split with Parti Islam SeMalaysia (Pas) is nearly 50:50.

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that contempt with the arrogance and excess of Umno politicians was the main factor why Chinese and Indians deserted the Barisan Nasional in droves. In a nutshell, Umno does not enjoy the overwhelming support of Malays, Indians or Chinese.

In Parliamant, Umno has 79 seats, fewer than the 81 seats held by Pakatan Rakyat. It would have made sense if the country's leaders are chosen from Barisan Nasional because the coalition does have a clear majority in the House and government, not Umno.

Now let us examine the talent available in the ruling party. Nearly every one of the candidates who has offered himself for senior positions in the party comes with some baggage.

Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib will forever be known as the politician who forgot to declare RM3.8 million when entering Australia; Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was on the crony list revealed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad; Tan Sri Isa Samad just completed his suspension for money politics. The list goes on and on.

But perhaps the most troubling aspect of the current system of choosing Malaysian leaders is the fact that it is done by an electoral college of 2,000 Umno delegates.

These men and women are picked to represent their divisions at the party's general assembly through a mix of patronage and money politics.

In the 2004 party elections, candidates sprayed money at delegates to buy their support. One supreme council member gave each of the delegates 500 euros as pocket money. Why euros? He had just returned from an overseas trip and did not have the time to change the currency.

Four years on and nothing has changed.

Umno officials say that the money which was given to division leaders (but not used) to oil the election machinery for March 8 is only now flowing to the ground. It is being used to influence the voting of grassroots leaders.

These politicians, many of whom are stained by money politics, will over the course of October and November nominate those who are contesting for senior positions in the party.

In March, they will have a far more important role. In the cavernous Putra World Trade Centre, they will elect the party president, deputy president, vice-presidents and supreme council members. By convention, the top two in the party will become Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Seems odd that we are still willing to allow 2,000 men and women to choose our leaders, knowing how decayed the Umno electoral process has become and how detached their leaders are to the aspirations of most Malaysians.

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