Results of the two Kedah  by-elections following death of Fadhil Noor will decide whether next general elections will be held within 12 or six months

- Penang DAP “PORR” Dinner 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Friday): Firstly, I congratulate Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on his appointment as Acting Prime Minister in the next 16 months whenever the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is out of the country – which is likely to be more than half of the transition period considering Mahathir’s  pace of foreign trips, making  17 overseas trips in the first six months of this year – and his designation as the successor to Mahathir as the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia after the  Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 24 and 25, 2003.   

I also congratulate Datuk Seri Abdul  Hadi Awang on his appointment as Parlamentary Opposition Leader although this has yet to be announced by the Parliament Speaker.  

The political events of the past week have  ushered Malaysia into a period of uncertainty, which will not be fully worked out before  the end of the 16-month transition period for the full transfer of the powers and office of Prime Minister from Mahathir to Abdullah – or even until long after.  

When Mahathir made his sudden and completely unexpected resignation announcement at the close of the  UMNO General Assembly last Saturday, he   plunged  UMNO into a public trauma unleashing emotional shockwaves which prevented  him from completing his announcement – while the Malaysian public reacted in shock or disbelief. 

Many questions have been raised, which remain largely unanswered, by the political events of the past week.  

First, whether Mahathir’s “resignation” announcement was a  sandiwara or play-acting, planned and orchestrated every step of the way, in view of Mahathir’s reputation of being more Machiavellian than Machiavelli,  to stage  a high  political drama to consolidate his power base in UMNO to silence criticisms and  dissenting voices to his public expressions of disappointment at his failure to change the Malays and his recent educational proposals in connection with “meritocracy”, the 10 per non-Malay quota for matriculation courses and MARA colleges and the use of English in schools. 

I had never subscribed to this conspiracy theory, believing that Mahathir’s announcement was genuine for a variety of reasons,  although it was unfortunate that  he was unable to fully spell out his resignation intentions before he was cut off and led off stage as a result of the public display of emotional holocaust at the UMNO General Assembly. 

The second question is whether the 16-month transition plan  will hold, whether Mahathir will make a political come-back at the end of the period whether because of staged or genuine UMNO and public demand – on the ground that Mahathir is indispensable or that Abdullah is not ready or suitable for the No. 1 job.  

I for one will write off this option as I do not see the possibility of such a Mahathir come-back, least of all that Mahathir will want to be part of it. 

I believe that barring extraordinary developments, Abdullah is set to be the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia by October next year and I do not expect him being challenged from inside UMNO for this No. 1 post.  

The jockeying for power in UMNO  would have started, however, for the new No. 2-to-be, and this  power tussle for the new No. 2 would have a bearing on the future of Abdullah as to how successful and how long  he could be the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia. 

Abdullah’s biggest weakness is that he was never elected as the UMNO Deputy President by the UMNO delegates in a free party election and he missed the chance to gain full  legitimacy as the properly-elected UMNO Deputy President in the 54th UMNO General Assembly in May 2000 after being a Deputy Prime Minister for 15 months, as the UMNO Supreme Council took the undemocratic decision that the post of President and Deputy President could not be contested.  

This undemocratic UMNO disease of stifling grass-roots party  democracy and the right of the delegates  to elect the leadership has now been exported to MCA, which has been forbidden from holding party leadership elections not by the MCA Constitution but by the UMNO President!  

This was not Mahathir’s understanding of democracy 21 years ago when he was set to become the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia after Tun Hussein Onn announced his resignation plan in mid-1981  because of poor health following a coronary bypass operation in London earlier in the year.  

At that time, Mahathir said he fully respected the democratic tradition and rights of UMNO delegates to elect the top UMNO leadership and that he would appoint as Deputy Prime Minister the  Deputy UMNO President elected by  the UMNO General Assembly just before he took over the reins of government from Hussein Onn on July 16, 1981. 

This set the stage for Round One of the titantic power struggle between Musa Hitam and Tengku Razaleigh to be the  UMNO Deputy President, and although Razaleigh was the hot-favourite, Musa won by a comfortable margin of 205 votes to become Mahathir’s first Deputy Prime Minister to form the “2M” Government – laying the seeds for Musa-Razaleigh battle Round Two in 1984  before both of them joined forces to challenge Mahathir/Ghaffar Baba in Round 3 in 1987.  

The question today is not who will challenge Abdullah, but who will become the new No. 2 in UMNO and government – whether Abdullah will follow Mahathir’s footsteps in 1981 to let the UMNO delegates to decide on the top leadership or he will inherit Mahathir’s latter-day undemocratic instincts forbidding party democracy and impose  his choice of the new No. 2 on UMNO.  

When Hussein Onn became the third Prime Minister after Tun Razak died of leukaemia in London in January 1976,  he had wanted to appoint the then powerful Home Minister and Razak-confidante Tan Sri Ghazalie Shafie as Deputy Prime Minister, but he was not an UMNO Vice President, and the three UMNO Vice Presidents, Ghafar Baba, Tengku Razaleigh and Mahathir ganged up against Hussein Onn to demand that he should pick the Deputy Prime Minister from one of the three UMNO Vice Presidents or face a revolt.  

Mahathir, who was elected as UMNO Vice President  in the 1975 UMNO General Assembly with the smallest vote, was selected to become Deputy  Prime Minister – and the rest is history. 

When Mahathir picked Abdullah as Deputy Prime Minister in January 1999, Abdullah was not the UMNO Vice President with the highest number of votes in the 1996 UMNO General Assembly (the last time there was elections for the UMNO Vice Presidency), having secured only 1,053 votes as compared to 1,483 votes polled by Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and 1,045 votes by Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib.  

In the party elections in the 54th UMNO General Assembly in May 2000, the votes polled by the three elected UMNO Vice Presidents were: Najib 1,289 votes; Muhammad Taib 853 votes and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin 813 votes.   

Najib is therefore  not assured of being appointed Deputy Prime Minister  as there is no UMNO tradition that the Vice President with the highest votes will get the first shot to be appointed the Deputy Prime Minister if there are no party elections to determine the new  UMNO Deputy President.  

The alternative is to restore UMNO democracy by holding UMNO party elections to return the right of UMNO delegates to choose their top leadership – especially as there had been no  party elections for UMNO’s No. 1 and No. 2  posts for the past 15 years since 1987.

The results of the two Kedah  by-elections in Pendang parliamentary and Anak Bukit state constituencies  following the death of PAS President, Datuk  Fadhil Noor will have a  large bearing in determining whether there will be a restoration of UMNO democracy with  UMNO delegates allowed once again  to choose who is to be the new No. 2 in party and government, as well as  whether the  next general elections will be held within 12 or six months. 

During the first two days of the UMNO General Assembly, I was repeatedly asked by the media  for my response to speeches by UMNO, UMNO Youth and Wanita UMNO leaders which indicated that a snap general election is imminent.  

I invariably told them that the holding of a snap general election, in the sense of not waiting for the completion of the full five-year term in 2004,  is no more news if it is held within 12 months, and that it would only be news if it is held within six months. 

There is the view that the 16-month power transition plan means that general election will be held after Abdullah becomes the fifth Prime Minister in October next year. I am inclined to the opposite view – that the 16-month transition plan would include the holding of the next general election whether in 12 months or even six months, depending on the outcome of the Pendang and Anak Bukit by-elections.

After he became the new PAS leader, Hadi said Malaysians should judge him by his words and actions and not from what had been written and said about him.

He said he will continue  to pursue the moderate agenda of Fadzil Noor and that there will be no change in PAS’ outlook and “political orientation”. 

I wish to publicly call on Hadi to underscore his assurance that PAS under his leadership will pursue a moderate agenda by withdrawing the controversial Terengganu Syariah Criminal Enactment Bill as it is clearly against the Federal Constitution, violates human rights and discriminates against women.  

Most important of all, the Terengganu Syariah Criminal Enactment Bill violates the Barisan Alternative common manifesto 1999 “Towards a Just Malaysia” , where the signatory parties made the solemn pledge “to uphold and respect the fundamental principles of the Malaysian Constitution”.

Malaysia is set for uncertain and even tumultuous political waters, and it is in such a period of political uncertainty that the DAP has an even greater role to play to defend and preserve the fundamental principles of the 44-year Merdeka Constitution, the “social contract” and the 1963 Malaysia Agreement that Malaysia is a democratic, secular, multi-religious, tolerant and progressive Malaysia with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic State – as the DAP  is the only political party in the country standing up unequivocally for these founding nation-building principles agreed by our forefathers from  the major communities.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman