The first refreshing statement was made by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah a day earlier in Kota Baru when he called on the UMNO leadership to make more democratic responses to the national challenges in the new millennium and stressed that what the people wanted was not just physical development but also freedom.
The UMNO Supreme Councilís "no contest" decision for the party's two top posts was the most undemocratic response to the millennium challenges, moving me to describe UMNO entering the 21st century as taking on Stalinist features which are diametrically at variance with all notions of a democratic party.
Why then has Abdullah's statement yesterday that he was willing to contest the second top party post if the party divisions wanted failed to have the inspiring effect as Razaleigh's Kota Baru statement?
There are at least four reasons:
Firstly, Abdullah's statement is a meaningless one. Although it presents Abdullah in a democractic light as submitting to the democratic wishes of the UMNO divisions if they want a contest for the UMNO Deputy President's post, Abdullah has no choice in the matter, for the UMNO Supreme Council's "no contest" decision is unconstitutional from the point of view of the UMNO Constitution and if there are sufficient UMNO divisions who nominate a different candidate to contest for the No. 2 post, there is nothing Abdullah could do but to contest.
Secondly, the issue of democracy at stake is not whether UMNO divisions could exercise their constitutional right under the UMNO Constitution to defy the UMNO Supreme Council's "no contest" decision, but whether the UMNO Supreme Council was prepared to set an example of democratic leadership by not imposing any form of restraint or curtailment on the UMNO divisions on the matter - when there are already many undemocratic and Stalinist restrictions imposed in the last UMNO constitutional amendment in December 1998, as for instance, requiring those aspiring to contest the Umno presidency to first get at least 30% of the nominations from the party's 165 divisions, i.e. 50 branches and for the deputy presidency, a candidate needed nominations from 33 divisions or at least 20% of all divisions.
Abdullah repeated that the UMNO supreme council's decision was only an advice and that "The real decision is in the hands of the divisions and it is up to them whether or not to heed the advice for the sake of party unity".
If the matter is so simple and straightforward that the UMNO supreme council's "advice" could be disregarded with impunity, there would not be such an uproar akin to revolt among the UMNO grassroots.
Abdullah cannot pretend not to know that "advice" is particularly sensitive in Malaysian politics. Over the past decades, Mahathir had poked fun at the British colonial rule for devising the British Adviser system for Malay Rulers, first introduced in the Pangkor Engagement of 1874 with Perak, requiring the latter to seek and act on British advice.
Now, Mahathir is importing this British Adviser system into UMNO politics, with the UMNO Supreme Council proferring the "advice" that there should be no contest for the two top UMNO posts in the UMNO General Assembly May 11-13, 2000 - and such "advice", like that of the British Advisers of the colonial past, are meant to be acted on without fail!
Thirdly, Abdullah was a full party to the UMNO Supreme Council's "no contest" decision on January 3, 2000.
He said Dr Mahathir had explained the decision and it was not final, nor was it the president's suggestion.
Abdullah said: "It was proposed by a supreme council member and the other members also gave the same views, that's what actually happened," he said.
Both Abdullah and Mahathir cannot "wash their hands" of the UMNO Supreme Councilís "no contest" decision, as if they were not part of it.
As UMNO Secretary-General Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob said last Monday, the UMNO Supreme Council, which included Mahathir and Abdullah, unanimously decided that there should be "no contest" for the two top UMNO posts, and even "unanimously proposed" Mahathir be renominated as president while Abdullah be nominated to fill the vacant deputy presidentís post.
Can Khalil explain which clause of the UMNO Constitution vests powers on the UMNO Supreme Council to propose nominations for the UMNO President and Deputy President?
It is noteworthy that when Mahathir was asked after the UMNO Supreme Council meeting last Monday as to who had proposed the "no contest", Mahathir was unusually coy in his reply. He said this was the consensus of the UMNO Supreme Council and added: "We donít identify anyone when a decision is unanimous and we donít point the finger".
Would anyone dare to suggest that the UMNO Supreme Council would have "unanimously" decided on a "no contest" for the two top UMNO posts if both Mahathir and Abdullah had made it clear that such a decision was completely unacceptable as it would violate all notions of democracy in UMNO and turn it into a Stalinist party?
Fourthly, Abdullah must rise up to the occasion and show that he has the qualities of a leader which are prerequisites for a successful fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia - and not just a mere follower.
Abdullah should not just say that he is willing to contest the Umno deputy presidency if the party divisions decided that there should be a contest, but be the first UMNO leader to come out publicly to call on the UMNO Supreme Council to rescind its "no contest" decision to respect the democratic rights of UMNO members as well as show his democratic credentials and commitment for more democratic responses to the millennial challenges faced by the country after the tenth general election.
In Kepala Batas yesterday, when asked to comment on my advice, Abdullah retorted that I was not an UMNO member and that he would only abide by what UMNO people say.
Abdullah is wrong if he implied that I have no right to comment on the UMNO "no contest" controversy. If this is purely an UMNO affair, with no wider implications outside the party, I am not interested at all. But if the "no contest" decision has a direct bearing on the question as to whether the fifth Prime Minister enjoys political legitimacy and credibility, then it must be the concern of all Malaysians, whether UMNO member or not.
I am sure that if the DAP Central Executive Committee had introduced a "no contest" rule for its two top posts, Mahathir would be leading UMNO leaders in denouncing the DAP for being undemocratic, autocratic, authoritarian and being a dictatorship.
And I will defend their right to do so, for although it is finally for each party to take decisions affecting itself, whether party leadership or policy directions, they cannot be cacooned from public opinion.
For just as "No man is an Island, entire of itself" (John Donne), no political party can be an island, entire of itself.
This is why although the DAP Central Executive Committee has given me full confidence as the DAP National Chairman, I am still prepared to listen to the views of people outside the DAP as to whether I should retire from politics after 33 years - from both those who are bona fide in their views, whether pro or con, as well as from well-known detractors who have a special axe to grind and a personal agenda to pursue! Based on these views from outside the party, I would decide and announce my political future during the Chinese New Year holidays next month.
There will be UMNO Ministers who might be tempted to riposte as to what right I have to talk about democracy in UMNO when there is no democracy in DAP. I give notice to such UMNO Ministers that they must be prepared to have a full public debate over television, radio and the mainstream media, if they make such a riposte, for democracy is not only alive in DAP but the DAP is a million times more democratic than UMNO!