Storm brewing beneath the surface

1580 the surface, Umno is all calm and stable. But beneath the seeming tranquillity, discontent is simmering – and sending the jitters down the backbone of the Barisan Nasional. With the next general election looming, Umno top leaders are worried that internal bickering would take a heavy toll on the party and render it weak. This is politically fatal, especially when the opposition front is seen as growing in strength and confidence.

The wind of discord is already blowing hard across Umno divisions, with many chiefs bearing the brunt of the blows from dissatisfied members.

Division committee members, for one, are angry because their rice bowls are getting empty. This is understandable since they are mostly small-time contractors and businessmen. They feel that contracts are not coming their way anymore and they blame the top Umno leaders in the government for not giving them much help.

Then there are factions in the party which are still practising the old patronage system, whereby the division heads would favour a select few among the committee members and would recommend them to the government for contracts.

After securing the contracts, the members would pay the delegates to vote for and retain their patrons (division chiefs). This has been in practice since the mid-1960s.

Crying quietly

The “parachuting” of federal leaders to head state liaison committees to solve party problems is not much of a help either as the internal rivalries still continue to boil, away from the glare of the media.

Terengganu is the best example where the rivalry between former menteri besar Idris Jusoh and the current Menteri Besar Ahmad Said still persists despite claims by liaison chief Hishammuddin Hussein that everything is fine.

The feud is expected to erupt in the open when Idris’ supporters may not be picked as candidates to contest in the coming general election.

It is a normal practice in Umno that the menteri besar draws up the list of the recommended candidates. Hence, Ahmad may not want to take onboard Idris’ men, thus worsening the rupture. Come polls day, Terengganu Umno may not be united at all.

In Kedah, several division heads are “crying quietly” because they claim that liaison chief Shafie Apdal is not doing much to help them tackle several pressing matters faced by the members.

They claimed that Shafie did not meet them often to listen to their woes and this does not augur well for Kedah Umno. If the frustration goes unchecked, there is genuine fear that Umno may not get back the PAS-ruled state.

Formidable challenge

Meanwhile in Selangor, Umno is in quite a bad shape mainly caused by the “intense rivalry” between supporters of former menteri besar Dr Mohd Khir Toyo and deputy liaison chief Noh Omar.

However, some division leaders said the situation could be controlled since Najib Tun Razak is the state’s liaison chief.

“With Najib as the chief, members are a little shy in expressing their resentment openly,” said a division chief.

But the fear is that they may show their anger at the ballot box.

Umno may yet face another formidable challenge in the form of Perkasa. The powerful right-wing Malay group is attracting a lot of attention – and support – from Umno members who feel their party is no longer championing the cause of the Malays.

Some Umno members who are also in the Perkasa camp hope the Malay NGO will register itself as a political party so that Umno dissidents can have a new platform to fight for their rights.

Said a party member: “Most of us will not vote for PAS or PKR but if Perkasa becomes a political party, we may just cast our votes there.”

“At least, Perkasa still champions the Malay cause, which Umno seems to be abandoning,” he added.

It is a grim scenario. Top Umno leaders must come up with answers – and fast – if they do not want to see their party cast adrift and eventually sink in a storm of their own making.-FMT