Slowly but surely, Umno vultures have begun circling over Women's chief Shahrizat Jalil and the chances are high she will be 'persuaded' to resign soon after failing to quell the fire of the RM250 million NFC financial debacle.
In the beginning, Umno leaders led by Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin had launched a spirited although rather foolish bid to defend her from corruption allegations after rival party PKR revealed that her family - which had been awarded the project - had spent millions of public money to buy 2 super-plush condos in Bangsar, a high-end Mercedes CLS350 CGI, residential land worth more than RM 3million in Putrajaya, gave million ringgit discounts to family-controlled firms and so on.
Now quietly, a queue has formed with some anonymously calling for her to resign from her party and government posts so as not to plunge Umno into further disrepute. There are also lawmakers who have openly called for her to quit, and one of these is Kinabatangan MP Bung Mokhtar Radin, while FT Minister Raja Nong Chik is the latest to call on the party leadership to decide Shahrizat's fate, rather than to allow her to cling on.
“Let the top leadership decide on her position,” Nong Chik told the press on Tuesday, however, stressing that investigations should be completed first.
Umno's candidacy in Lembah Pantai as good as gone
The FT minister is seen as being affected by Shahrizat's fall from grace as he was slated to take on PKR's Nurul Izzah Anwar in Lembah Pantai, which had been Shahrizat's stronghold until she lost the seat in the 2008 general elections.
Pundits say Nong Chik's chances against Nurul will be very much diminished if Shahrizat were to stay on, without any 'accounting' to the public for NFC.
"There is a huge groundswell of anger towards Shahrizat mainly because she and Najib and the whole gang tried to pretend nothing was wrong when it was so clearly the opposite. It was the stupidest response Umno could have made towards an issue like this especially when the Corruption Perception Index plunged," an Umno watcher told Malaysia Chronicle.
"They can try to save face but is such vanity worth it? Better that they had distanced themselves from her at the beginning until proven she was innocent. But they all had a stake in it, in the sense that Khairy was instrumental in granting the NFC project to her family, Muhyiddin Yassin was the Agriculture minister who approved the deal and Najib was the deputy prime minister overseeing the matter at that time."
Most corrupt record under Najib
He was referring to the Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, where Malaysia had stood at 37th spot in 2003. The latest report issued last week showed Malaysia was now 60th, the worst since the index began, and after three consecutive years of falls.
Prime Minister Najib Razak, who took over from Abdullah Badawi in 2009, has ignored the results, but calls are growing for him to show some responsibility over the plunge which will surely lower Malaysia's attraction as an investment destination.
"In fact, not a single UMNO leader or delegate at the UMNO General Assembly breathed a word of concern about corruption in general or TI CPI 2011 in particular – apart from giving “blank cheque” support to Wanita UMNO leader and Minister for Women, Family and Community Development Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil in her embroilment in the RM300 million “CattleGate Cow Condo” scandal!"
Those who spoke up and those who kept quiet
Anonymously, some women delegates have voiced their dissatisfaction at the 'show' put up by Shahrizat's supporters. Her husband and children were granted the project in 2006 and Shahrizat's defence has been that she was not involved in NFC. It was her family, she said.
It is also telling that the police, long accused of being under Umno's thumb, have interviewed her family but not her, and yet have been quick to say that investigations do not show 'elements' of criminal breach of trust, although they were deafeningly silent on abuse of power and ultra vires decisions.
"Who knows him from Adam?” an Umno delegate was reported as having told the Malaysian Insider in reference to Shahrizat's husband, Salleh Ismail, who was granted the RM250 million NFC cattle-breeding project.
“Come on, they understand. It is your husband, so what do you mean it has nothing to do with you? If you were not a minister do you think your husband would have gotten the project?"
On Monday, Bung had again public called for Shahrizat to step down.
“If there are even little cracks within Umno, it can cripple and destabilise the party in the elections. Whether or not this move of mine is seen as part of a vested interest, it is up to people to judge,” Bung Mokhtar had said.
“I do not expect my views to be agreed upon by all in my party. Everyone has differing views, so there will be a response, but I needed to say what has not been said."
Those who have kept mum on the issue include BN components MCA, Gerakan, MIC, ultra Malay NGO Perkasa, who fear antagonising Umno should they speak up. But by keeping silent, Malaysia will not be able to rid itself of its greatest scourge, which is corruption, said pundits.