Malaysian politics is in constant flux, more so today than in the past. Apart from current prime minister Abdullah Badawi and Anwar Ibrahim jostling for leadership, there are Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Daim Zainuddin prominently in the equation. Throw in RM3 billion seemingly stuck in Indonesia, Umno's general assembly in December 2008 might prove to be a costly one. This commentary was posted on Malaysia Today.

 

Twenty-four hours is a long time in politics, what more 24 weeks leading to December 2008. And over the last 24 days there has been much realignment in Malaysian politics. But can Anwar Ibrahim change this equation even more by convincing 24 Members of Parliament from Sabah and Sarawak to cross over to Pakatan Rakyat (People's Alliance)? If he can then he needs only 10 more or so from Umno to join Pakatan Rakyat so that he can form the new federal government.

This is no longer just about Anwar getting at least 30 government MPs to join the opposition ranks - which will then be transformed into the new government. There are also Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and (former Finance Minister) Tun Daim Zainuddin prominently in the equation. And, of course, not to be left out, is ‘First Lady’ in-waiting, Rosmah Mansor, who could most probably be Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s final nail in the coffin.

Yes, the direction and final outcome of Malaysian politics is subject to the moves of many political heavyweights. Anwar Ibrahim, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Daim Zainuddin, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Najib Tun Razak, Rosmah Mansor, Muhyiddin Yasin; they all have a bearing on what we are going to see come Christmas Day 2008. One person’s move changes the equation even further. And if everyone makes a move one can only guess what the final outcome will be.

To salvage the situation and checkmate Anwar, some people in Umno (United Malays National Organisation) are talking to some people in PAS (Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party). Let us get one thing clear. Umno is not talking to PAS. Some people in Umno are talking to some people in PAS. And the ‘offer’ from these Umno people is simple. PAS leaves the opposition coalition and forms a new coalition with Umno. In states like Perak, PAS will form the government with Umno and not with PKR (Parti Keadilan Raykat or People's Justice Party) or DAP (Democratic Action Party) as its partner. PAS can become the Menteri Besar (chief minister) and Umno will support PAS in its effort to implement Islamic laws in the state.

PAS has of course rejected Umno’s ‘offer’, which was made on 9 March 2008. Officially the party is not interested and they wish to remain loyal to their Pakatan Rakyat partners, PKR and DAP. But there are some within PAS who are attracted by Umno’s offer to allow Islamic laws to be implemented - as opposed to PKR and DAP who are both bitterly opposed to the implementation of any Islamic laws.

That explains why, of late, some people in PAS have, again, been talking about the implementation of Islamic laws. They are encouraged by Umno’s ‘softening’ on the issue. These people are, of course, too young to remember that more than 30 years ago PAS was similarly tricked by Umno - and after almost three years they left Barisan Nasional (National Front) when they realised that Umno was not sincere about Islam but only spoke about Islam to attract PAS into joining Barisan Nasional.

(Former Finance Minister) Daim Zainuddin, however, does not want Abdullah to retire just yet. He needs Abdullah around until at least 2010 because it will take him two years to slowly bring back RM3 billion in cash. Yes, more than 10 years ago, RM3 billion in RM500 and RM1,000 notes were smuggled out to Indonesia.

In the meantime, Anwar is going to court to get his September 1998 sacking as Deputy Prime Minister declared illegal and a violation of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia. If he succeeds then Abdullah has to reinstate him as Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister, by order of the court.

But Malaysia already has a Deputy Prime Minister who goes by the name of Najib Tun Razak. Yes, but if Najib is forced to resign because of his wife’s implication in the Altantuya murder, and if it can be proven that his office is involved, then Najib is dead meat and there will be a vacancy for the post of Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia. And Raja Petra Kamarudin’s sedition trial in October may be that playground to prove this - unless they get cold feet and either drop the charges or delay the trial until next year.

Daim, however, does not want Abdullah to retire just yet. He needs Abdullah around until at least 2010 because it will take him two years to slowly bring back RM3 billion in cash. Yes, more than 10 years ago, RM3 billion in RM500 and RM1,000 notes were smuggled out to Indonesia. When Tun Dr Mahathir found out he discontinued the usage of RM500 and RM1,000 notes. So the money is now stuck. The notes can, of course, be brought back, but they can’t be used in the open market. Instead, you have to send them to Bank Negara to be changed into smaller notes.

And this is where the problem lies. How to bring back RM3 billion in RM500 and RM1,000 notes unless you do it over two years and unless the Finance Minister cum Prime Minister gives his permission for Bank Negara to accept them? So Daim has to ensure that the Finance Minister cum Prime Minister stays on at least until 2010 when the entire RM3 billion can be safely brought back and sent to Bank Negara for conversion into smaller notes. And to ensure that the Finance Minister cum Prime Minister is not kicked out of office, Daim is prepared to spend half the amount to defeat the challengers like Tengku Razaleigh and Muhyiddin.

The 2008 Umno party election is going to be the most expensive election in Umno’s history. But then much is at stake, both in terms of power and money. So the cost is necessary. Dr Mahathir knows, of course, what Daim is up to and he wants Abdullah out now to thwart Daim’s move. And he wants Najib to challenge Abdullah but Najib has made a deal with Abdullah - and with the Altantuya murder trial still proceeding very slowly Najib can’t afford to renege on his deal in case ‘new evidence’ surfaces in the course of the trial.

Tengku Razaleigh is not to be discounted just yet either. Over the last few months he has been making his rounds to the Umno branches and he appears to be gaining support. While Daim backs Abdullah, Dr Mahathir pressures Najib to bring Abdullah down, Abdullah checks Najib, Anwar makes a bid to get back his Deputy Prime Minister’s job and probably becomes the next Prime Minister as well, Muhyiddin ding-dongs between both sides, and much more, Tengku Razaleigh is slowly and successfully convincing the Umno grassroots that he is the White Knight who will save Umno from itself.

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The above article was posted on www.malaysia-today.net (Your source of independent news). Raja Petra Kamarudin started the Malaysia Today website and his blog to facilitate open discussion on Malaysia's political and social scenes. A relative of a former Malaysian King from Selangor and known for his hard-hitting commentaries, which are often infused with humour, Raja Petra is also the author of When Time Stood Still and From Prince To Prisoner.

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June 20, 2008