On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Clean up the mess and get going

On The Beat

IT is called money politics in Umno but it is just a euphemism for corruption – in short, vote buying and patronage.

Umno leaders are well aware of the problem and have even acknowledged it openly but the leadership seems to lack the will and courage to stop it.

The fear is that the problem may have become so entrenched now that money politics could be in danger of becoming an acceptable practice.

It must have been a case of sheer frustration when party disciplinary board chairman Tengku Tan Sri Ahmad Rithauddeen called for the abolishment of the party wings to eradicate corruption.

With 900 over cases of bribery reports lodged by party members, it is impossible for the man to investigate every allegation but he knows how bad the problem has become.

Last week, he called for a revamp of Umno’s political structure, including a re-look at the quota system for elections, saying the “scourge of money politics and vote-buying could be overcome by making Umno a singular organisation.”

He went a step further by saying that there was no need for the Wanita, Youth, Puteri and Putera wings.

As expected, the reaction was swift, with party leaders shooting down the proposal.

Some called the suggestion “illogical, drastic, unrealistic and off the mark.” Privately, the remarks must have been worse.

They argued that Umno needed new blood to revitalise the party and shutting down the wings was not the solution.

But Tengku Rithauddeen’s call has certainly sparked off a debate on the problem, or rather, the sickness, affecting Umno.

The perception of Umno watchers, who are outsiders, is that Umno is aware of the problem but that, sadly, it is unwilling and unable to treat it.

The comparison is this: When a patient, who needs treatment, comes before a doctor, he doesn’t postpone the treatment as he is aware of the effects of not tackling the disease.

As an analogy, Umno is aware that it needs treatment but seems to be dragging its feet.

Such perception may seem harsh and even unfair as the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission has started to investigate and charge corrupt Umno politicians.

Associates of Tengku Rithauddeen said the veteran politician made the call because he believed that young people should focus on their jobs and not become politicians upon graduation.

The danger for these young men and women is that they may be sucked into the political system, where money politics is prevalent. It is fine if idealism is the reason for them to join Umno rather than to enrich themselves but Tengku Ruthauddeen must have felt otherwise.

Idealism certainly needs to be re-ignited in Umno. The in-fighting, especially at division levels, has cost Umno many parliamentary and state seats in the general election and of late, even consecutive by-elections.

The jostling for positions is rampant because it means power and patronage but the extent of it has hurt the party and in the process also affected Barisan Nasional component parties.

It is coming to a year now after the political tsunami of March 8, 2008. Plenty of time has been wasted and the perception of many Malaysians is that Umno has not changed.

Some had feared that Umno might become more inward-looking or take a more religious and racial line, to stop the erosion of Malay votes but that approach would backfire.

The hallmark of Umno has been its moderation and its politics of accommodation and consensus. The fact that Pakatan Rakyat has worked on a similar coalition set-up shows its effectiveness.

The country’s history has proven that the Alliance and now the Barisan Nasional could hold the political fabric of plural Malaysia together.

Despite the many flaws, it has done a great job making Malaysia a modern country, but what it needs now is political detoxification. As with established parties worldwide, it cannot live on the glories of the past.

Dwelling on the past only alienates the young set of voters, who don’t care about history, including the many unsettled fights which have no bearing to their lives.

Umno needs to show that its experience in running the country is crucial in meeting the challenges of the global economic recession.

Now is not the time for political adventures as sound economic leadership, experiences and policies are crucial.

Its leaders must focus their attention on economic issues – make sure Malaysians keep their jobs and continue to provide food on the table for the families.

That is what Malaysians want to hear. Get over with the party elections and let’s get the job moving. Haven’t Umno wasted enough time already?

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has an arduous job of mopping up the mess and restoring leadership for Malaysia.