Monday, March 16, 2009

Umno's ticking time bomb

BRINGING more offenders to book will perhaps convince the public that Umno has indeed begun a new chapter in its fight against money politics.

Until and unless it weeds out the menace plaguing it for decades, public perception of its commitment, despite assurances from its leadership, will not change.

Among Malaysians, there is a strong perception that corruption is too deeply rooted in Umno and this is detrimental to the party's efforts to stand tall after last year's general election drubbing.

Many party outsiders also fear that those who buy their way to victory in the party elections on March 26 may end up in ministerial or other government positions.

A friendly reminder came from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who, besides asking the 2,500 voting delegates to prevent the corrupt from winning, cautioned prime minister-elect Datuk Seri Najib Razak to select his cabinet well, saying corrupt leaders will effectively see the end of Barisan Nasional's five-decade rule of the country.

"People are watching and we know who is corrupt. If Najib as prime minister picks them, it will be like signing his own death warrant and he will lose the 13th general election," said the country's longest-serving premier, who has since quit Umno.

A joke making the rounds now is that some candidates would be celebrating at the Putra World Trade Centre after winning the post they so desired through vote-buying, but only to return home to a state under opposition control.

Voters, as proven in the last general election, loathe corruption and will reject candidates who are corrupt or perceived to be corrupt the next time.

Criticisms of the two enforcing bodies -- the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the Umno disciplinary board -- are aplenty since only a fraction of the number of cases reported had been acted upon or disposed of.

As pointed out by MACC's director of investigations Datuk Shukri Abdull, more than 50 per cent of the 90 cases initiated by the commission had been passed to Umno's disciplinary board.

So far, only Umno supreme council incumbent Datuk Mohamad Norza Zakaria has been charged with corruption. The MACC is also trying to establish if the Tourism Ministry is being used as a front to canvass for votes in the elections.

The Umno disciplinary board itself received more than 900 reports of party members contravening election regulations, including vote-buying.

Talk is abuzz in Umno circles in the past couple of days that show-cause letters over money politics would be issued to at least two candidates.

One of the candidates under investigation is said to have had hundreds of reports lodged against him.

Some people are expecting something big to happen over the next few days -- either someone eyeing a senior post would be charged, disqualified from contesting or would withdraw from contesting.

Many are anxiously waiting to see whether this will come true.

Umno politicians may view the case against Norza as proof that Umno is taking steps to address the malaise; sceptics are saying it is a smokescreen, an attempt to divert public attention from the mounting pressure on the party to take action on complaints lodged.

There are serious doubts about the willingness of the MACC and Umno's disciplinary committee in tackling money politics, and allegations of them practising selective prosecution should be a concern to Umno.

The opposition's allegations of corruption in Umno cannot be brushed aside and are expected to be relentless. DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang once described the commission as "Umno's cat's paw" and Parti Keadilan Rakyat supreme council member Badrul Hisham Shaharin dubbed the MACC a "tool of the powerful few in Umno".

The more immediate threat is the disclosure by Pas vice-president Datuk Husam Musa that his party is in possession of details of more than 1,000 reports lodged with the disciplinary board and these would be exposed during campaigning for the Bukit Gantang by-election.

The findings of a study by the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research recently that 61 per cent of 1,031 voters surveyed felt that corruption was the biggest problem plaguing Umno, although not conclusive, is an indicator that Umno could face a serious blow in 2013 if it fails to find ways to reduce, if not wipe out money politics altogether.

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