On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Giver and taker share equal blame

After all, it takes two hands to clap. The  giver and the taker share equal blame.

Dr Mahathir's declaration of war against 
money politics is timely. On Wednesday, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
will open  the Youth and Wanita
assemblies, followed  immediately by

All eyes will be on the tussle for the top 
Wanita post between incumbent Datuk Dr 
Zaharah Sulaiman and Datuk Seri Rafidah 

On Thursday, Dr Mahathir will open the 
general assembly proper where delegates 
will decide on the three vice-president's  posts, which are vied by nine

Dr Mahathir and Abdullah have both won 
their respective posts unopposed. Acting 
Youth chief Datuk Hishamuddin Hussein, 
likewise, won without a challenge.

The target of these so-called demanding 
delegates, according to Umno insiders, are  the vice-president aspirants, where the  stakes are the highest. The winners are
seen  to be in line for the top party

If delegates believe that they command a 
price, because of their voting power, then  they would spend money to get themselves  elected at branch and division levels.
Should  leaders at higher levels splurge
on these delegates, then they are merely endorsing money politics.

It is a vicious cycle because those who 
spend huge sums of money need to recoup 
their expenses.

It would not be surprising if those holding 
public office compromise their positions or  are prepared to accept kick-backs. There  must be an open display of disdain and
contempt against money politics.

Although the party elections would be the 
focus of the party and the media, many also  want to know the future directions of

This year's general assembly is important 
because it is the first of the millennium and,  more importantly, the first since the
1999  general election.

There is immense interest in the assembly, not just among the Malays but
others  Malaysian because Umno is the
backbone of  the ruling Barisan

Critics of Umno have charged that the 
party has lost its credibility and an overhaul  is needed. They point out that there is
resentment against the leadership among the 
Malay community.

The result has been a split among the Malays, with many supporting PAS even if
they  are wary of the Islamist party's

This issue is expected to be a focus in Dr 
Mahathir's address at the assembly.

Although Umno has come under intense 
criticism, many still accept the fact that the  party's strengths outweighs its flaws.

Its moderation and willingness to compromise have been its strong points.
Umno  should not be ashamed that it has
the support of non-Malays.

In fact, Umno has proven itself to be committed to self-renewal over the years.
Even  as PAS debate over whether
non-Muslims  should be associate members,
with no voting  rights, Umno has long
accepted non-Muslim  bumiputras from
Sabah as members with  equal

It also has shown great ingenuity in the 
formulation of the New Economic Policy, 
which has led to fairer distribution of wealth  and the strengtening of Malay-Sino

Dr Mahathir's expected emphasis on the 
substance of Islam, rather than its form, will  reassure many Malaysians that Umno has
no  intention of competing with PAS to
win Muslim votes.

The assembly offers the members the 
highest channel to carry out some soul searching. For a start, some
confidence building will help mend the post-election  dent.

Umno must accept the fact that it has to 
enhance its image at the grassroots through  more community-related work.

The “Datuk politician,'' in his corporate 
image and shiny Mercedes-Benz, may project the image of a successful
bumiputra but  it has also sent wrong
signals to the kampung voters.

Complaint bureaus, where the ordinary 
people can seek help, could be set up in 
housing areas so that the party will be accessible to the

If the successful Sanggang by-election 
campaign is to be a lesson, Umno leaders not  only need to make themselves relevant
but  they have to relate to the
sentiments of the  ordinary rakyat.