Mahathirís reaction to the views of the former Deputy Prime Minister,
Tan Sri Musa Hitam opposing the UMNO Supreme Councilís "no contest" rule
for the two top party posts is not surprising.
Mahathir said the Umno Supreme Council is holding on to its stand that there be no contest for the party presidency and deputy presidency despite differing opinions on the matter among some party leaders who are not council members because it was unhealthy for the party.
Musa is the second former Deputy Prime Minister and former UMNO Deputy President after Tun Ghafar Baba to speak up against the "no contest" rule, stating that it would be good for UMNO for Mahathir and Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi to be ready to face a challenge.
One would have thought that the UMNO Supreme Council would want to reconsider its "no contest" decision after two former Deputy UMNO Presidents and Deputy Prime Ministers had spoken out against it.
However, from Mahathirís instant reaction to Musa, it is clear that the UMNO Supreme Council is not even allowed to reconsider its decision of "no contest" for the two top party posts as it is Mahathir who is the strongest advocate for this decision.
Mahathirís claim that most UMNO memberrs, including from the grassroots, support the Supreme Councilís advice that there should be no contest for the top two posts in the party election in May is highly dubious, as it is likely that if there is a secret ballot on the issue in the UMNO Supreme Council itself, the result may be the opposite or there would be a very high bloc of opposition!
Musa had predicted that Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah would challenge either Mahathir or Abdullah for the two top UMNO posts. I would be very surprised if Tengku Razaleigh did not contest for the top UMNO post in May.
Whether Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah contests for the top UMNO leadership position in May is, in the final analysis, an UMNO matter.
However, Malaysians are legitimately concerned not only because the UMNO President and Deputy President also become the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, but also about the undemocratic trends in UMNO which must portend a shift towards more undemocratic and arbitrary governance in the country for the next few years under Mahathir.
If Mahathir can now claim that elections for the two top UMNO posts is unhealthy for the party, it is not a big step to claim four years down the road that general elections in the country is unhealthy for the nation should Mahathir decide to continue as Prime Minister for another term despite his earlier statement that the present one is his last term.
UMNO is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis in its party history, losing the Malay heartland in the last general election where it won only 40 per cent of the Malay votes.
In facing this crisis, UMNO can either lead a democratisation process in the party and the country to spearhead a national renewal and rejuvenation or it can become even more feudalistic and autocratic making UMNO more and more irrelevant to the aspirations of the Malays as well as Malaysians.
The preparedness of the top UMNO leadership to rescind the "no contestí rule and welcome a clean and democratic contest for the two top party posts in May will be an important barometer as to which direction UMNO and the country will be heading for the next few years.