07 May 2015 10:00 AM
by Aziz Bari
OUTSPOKEN: The move to unseat Prime Minister Najib Razak (above) seems to have gained more momentum in the past few weeks. In the forefront is none other than former premier and Umno president Dr Mahathir Mohamad (right).
And he has included, quite surprisingly, issues which are quite “personal” such as making insinuations about Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor. The lavish wedding of Najib’s daughter has also become Mahathir’s target. He has even included the Altantuya murder issue although he may not say it in the manner opposition leaders did it.
Some ministers, including Najib’s deputy Muhyiddin Yasin, have somewhat lauded Mahathir’s courage and persistent attack. At some point Mahathir seems to have endorsed the deputy prime minister and deputy Umno chief as Najib’s successor. Like Muhyiddin, Minister for Rural Development and Umno vice-president Shafie Afdal has also abandoned Najib.
What we have seen is quite unprecedented as previously attempts to unseat a sitting premier were done behind closed doors. This is what one could say about the way Abdul Razak Hussein dislodged the first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman in the aftermath of the 1969 general elections. Or the way Razak’s successor Hussein Onn left office in 1981.
Interestingly enough, Mahathir had a hand on both occasions. When it came to his turn Mahathir chose to resign: he did so in 2003 after more than 22 years in power. He was again in the thick of action when he led the attack on his successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whom he called ‘half-past-six’ premier in 2009.
The situation in Umno seems to be confusing and somewhat ‘free for all’. For one thing, the members of Najib’s cabinet do not seem to be united with him. This is quite baffling as ministers have no choice but to sink and swim together. Muhyiddin and Shafie Afdal should bear in mind what Dr Rais Yatim and Zaid Ibrahim did. The former resigned as foreign affairs minister from Mahathir’s cabinet in 1987 while the latter, who was minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in Abdullah Badawi’s cabinet, did the same in 2009.
In the United Kingdom, John Redwood resigned from the cabinet of prime minister John Major in 1994, as he could not agree with Major’s approach and policies. Some years earlier, Michael Heseltine did the same as he could not live with some of the policies pursued by prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Both of them went on to challenge the premiers for the leadership of the Conservative party but were defeated.
Perhaps it was the confusing scenario that led Umno MP and PAC chairman Nur Jazlan to suggest that Najib dissolve Parliament to pave the way for fresh elections. Such a move would, the Pulai MP argued, allow the people to decide once and for all over several burning issues. But of course this was not agreed by the Umno warlords who felt that if the prime minister were to do that Umno would lose big time and have to sit on the opposition benches.
Indeed throughout the Commonwealth there has been no occasion whereby a prime minister who faced opposition from his or her own party has chosen to go to Parliament to settle the score. Instead they prefer to use party channels and machinery to sort out the problems.
That is exactly what happened in Umno. Tunku Abdul Rahman, Hussein Onn and Abdullah Badawi chose to leave when the writing was on the wall. Even it could be said that was also the reason which prompted Mahathir to leave: the Malays deserted Umno in the 1999 general elections.
The problem that we have got here in Malaysia is that we do not have what is known as the parliamentary party like in the United Kingdom. Out there, the party leader is the head of the party’s MPs in Parliament. Here the party leader is basically the head of party as an organisation and that so-called leader need not be an MP.
In the United Kingdom when the party cannot carry on with the leader an election for a new leader could be held at anytime. In the case of Umno it can only be held once every three years and this may even be delayed or suspended by the sitting president. Maybe Pakatan Rakyat can initiate the change so that the deadlock that we are seeing now would not happen to them. Of course one could point out the problem they have with former Selangor menteri besar Khalid Ibrahim. But here one must remember the role played by the palace; something which was obviously undemocratic compared to the one assumed by the Buckingham palace in London.
It is to be recalled that Prime Minister Tony Blair had to step down in 2006 when he had to surrender the leadership of the Labour party to his deputy, Gordon Brown. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher suffered the same fate in 1990 when Conservative MPs withdrew their support for her as party leader.
Dr Abdul Aziz Bari is a former law professor of International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) who now teaches at University of Selangor (Unisel)
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