Risky ‘duty’ for Johor Umno

April 11, 2008

Johor Umno leaders will ask the Prime Minister to spell out a specific plan for his own political future when they meet him today.

ANALYSIS BY JOCELINE TAN

THE Prime Minister is not easily perturbed. He is able to keep his composure even in dire circumstances and those close to him attribute it to his inner strength and faith in God.

As such, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will be his usual cool and collected self when he flies into Johor today.

Ostensibly, he is there for a meeting of the Iskandar Regional Development Authority board which he co-chairs with Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman. But after Friday prayers, he is scheduled to meet the Johor Umno liaison committee.

The Umno president is quite aware of why the Johor Umno leaders have asked to meet him and aides say he is prepared to listen to them with an open mind.

The Johor leaders plan to convey their concern and misgivings about the state of the party following the losses suffered by the Barisan Nasional.

They also plan to ask the Prime Minister to spell out a more specific outline of his political future for the sake of Umno.

And they have stressed that the meeting will be conducted with décorum and respect because “Pak Lah is our PM as well as party president.”

The Johor group, said a senior MP from the state, is not asking him to step down.

“We are not talking about asking him to resign. We are a Malay party and we want to do it the Malay way. There will be no such thing as forcing anyone to resign as what some people have claimed. But it’s important that Pak Lah draws up his own plans and makes it known to the party. Our members feel that it will help stop people out there from attacking the leadership and party,” said the senior MP.

The Johor Umno committee discussed the matter at a meeting two Saturdays ago and Abdul Ghani, who is also the state Umno chief, has been tasked to convey the message to Abdullah at today’s meeting.

But there were also alternative voices and one of them was Johor Baru MP Datuk Shahrir Samad who insisted that Abdullah should be given time and that if he wished to stay on, then no one should pressure him otherwise.

Shahrir, who is Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister, said Abdullah should not be the only one blamed for the disastrous election performance.

“Everyone has to share the blame and correct their own faults. Let Pak Lah face the Umno general assembly in December and in the meantime, let’s focus on our own work,” he said.

The Johor initiative has been the subject of great discussion among the rank and file because of its gravity as well as implications and consequences. But the leaders feel they cannot ignore the rumblings on the ground if Umno is to recover and regain ground.

Besides, Johor Umno leads the pack with six ministers and two deputy ministers in the federal government. There are six Johoreans among the 25 elected party supreme council members.

Abdullah, to his credit, has said that he would not overstay and that he wants to put things right before retiring.

When he visited Sabah on Monday, he said quite clearly that he would not stay any longer than he should, that he had not intention of remaining Prime Minister “for years.” He said that his successor and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak understood this more than anyone else.

A senior Johor politician who had tried to prepare Abdullah for today’s meeting said the Prime Minister has always been receptive to feedback.

“He is prepared for the message and he took what I had to say with such calm and dignity that I was the one who felt emotional. I would have cried if there had not been other people nearby,” said the politician.

There is really not very much that will surprise the Prime Minister given what he has gone through the last few weeks.

In fact, several days after the elections, the tough-talking Cheras Umno chief Datuk Syed Ali Alhabshee had gone to see Abdullah at his Putrajaya residence.

Abdullah had greeted Syed Ali with a warm handshake, patted him on the tummy and said: “So, you want me to leave?”

Then he listened intently to what the Cheras chief had to say about the elections.

“It is not that we love Pak Lah less, but we love Umno more,” said the same senior Johor politician.

A key concern of the Johor group is preserving the dignity of the Umno leadership or what they call the institution of Umno.

They are worried about what will happen when the party’s branch and division meetings begin in a few months’ time.

“I can control my division but there are 20,000 branches all over the country and we cannot control them. We don’t want them making statements and passing resolutions on the leadership that will further damage the party,” said the politician.

The southern leaders are taking a huge risk but they feel it is “our duty” to bring up this thorny subject with Abdullah.

Source: Thestar.com.my

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