New Straits Times
14 Oct 2008

Slickly sliding into the slime

WHEN Umno holds its delayed general assembly in March next year, it
would be exactly a year since the apocalyptic 12th general election --
52 weeks of very little else but persistent, niggling politics ad
infinitum.

The way things are going, el finito, a clear end, does not seem to be
anywhere near -- to certain personalities maybe, but not to the rough
and tumble of power play Malaysians are fast becoming familiar with
for many months now.

On the contrary, expect a rougher ride in the next five months. Be
prepared for more cases of slick manoeuvring and stealth tactics as
national politics cruise unsteadily into a new phase.

Just look back a little. When Parliament was dissolved and elections
called eight months ago, the politicking grew in unexpected intensity,
extending inwards beyond the usual inter-party fight for votes and
support. There was, for instance, an amazingly tight scramble in Umno
among people who wanted very badly to become candidates, made more
blistering by the generational change and infusion of young blood
sought in the party.

It caused some dissatisfaction and made the line-up selection for
Barisan Nasional even harder, an uneasy situation which was said to
have lingered throughout the campaign period and thereafter.
The results of the March 8 polls then triggered post-event run-ins
relating to who should and shouldn't be in the new cabinet, who should
and shouldn't be menteri besar.

This, plus the finger-pointing that accompanied the big question of
what went wrong with the BN as it failed to secure a two-thirds
majority in Parliament, broadened the squabble.

Amid all this, and as if the friction was not enough, opposition
parties led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim have added more fire to the
bruising atmosphere by claiming that they could get at least 30 BN MPs
to defect and hence take over the Federal Government.

Driven by his frantic desire to become prime minister, Anwar has been
rattling the cage of cross-over politics for many months now, each
time deferring the promised takeover. And the tactic has done much to
cause considerable nervousness in the BN ranks.

More political wranglings emerged as a result, as BN component parties
began looking critically inwards, evaluating their partners in the
face of the setbacks with the battlefronts having been expanded, so to
speak. This includes the politicking -- the moves and counter-moves --
that preceded the decision by Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to let
go of his position as Umno president and Malaysia's prime minister,
initially by June 2010 but later brought forward to March next year.

March 2009 is also when the Umno general assembly, postponed twice
from August and then December this year, will now be held. And the
battle looks far from being over.

The sum of all of the above makes the annual Umno congress an
extremely exciting prospect, this being election year for the party,
ever the dominant force in Malaysian politics since its inception 62
years ago.

It's still five months away and barely halfway through the divisional
preliminaries but we are already witnessing a rousing start to perhaps
the most intense contests at various levels in Umno there had ever
been -- even fiercer than the much-touted party elections of 1993.

That was the year vote-buying in Umno entered the super league where
it has remained since.

A frank perspective was given by NST writer Zubaidah Abu Bakar in her
commentary on Sunday when she pointed out that a candidate now needed
between RM2 million and RM3 million just to secure the post of
divisional head.

There is much talk, she added, about a senior leader who has been
doing almost nothing else except giving away duit raya since a week
before Hari Raya. The green-coloured packets at his Hari Raya open
house over the weekend were also said to be much thicker.

"People claiming to be in the know said more than RM250 million had
already been spent so far," she wrote.

It is alarming. But the worst part is that money politics is only half
of it. The intensity of it all will pave the way for a very open
battle. Even the early stages are getting close attention. For the
first time, everyone is keeping score of the nominations even at the
preliminaries.

The blogs and dedicated websites are deeply into it, tabulating the
number of nominations even for the supreme council seats and the main
contests for Youth, Wanita and Puteri wings. This is quite
unprecedented and, frankly, has put the pressure on the traditional
media to do the same.

And the ferocity of it all will give rise to more slick moves.

Expect startling conspiracies to emerge. Most of all, expect dirty
politics to surface. The signs are all there.

http://www.nst.com.my/