MUHYIDDIN WALKS A FINE LINE
Sunday May 11, 2008, The STAR Online
The International Trade and Industry Minister and three-term Umno vice-president speaks out on the state of affairs in Umno, Barisan Nasional and Government.
Wait and see: Muhyiddin has been Umno vice-president for three terms, but says he is quite amazed by proposals from advisers that he should consider going up the hierarchy ladder in Umno.
UMNO vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is the most talked-about personality in the party these days. Known for his amiable and “quiet elegance”, the 61-year-old International Trade and Industry Minister and Pagoh MP, who has held the party vice-presidency for three terms, could now be mulling a move up the party hierarchy.
Q: Tan Sri, last month, you called for all speculation on the Prime Minister’s position to stop, saying it could worry local and foreign investors. And then?.
A: I called for what?
Q: You called for talk on the Prime Minister’s position to cease. That people should not speculate because ?
A: Did I say that, when?
Q: You were quoted as such in the newspapers. It was sometime in early April. And then one week later, you called for the PM to step down. Are you standing by what you said?
A: I didn’t say that. You have to understand the Bahasa (Malaysia) language. (Smiles) There is a lot of difference when you translate Bahasa into English.
Q: Then you can set the record straight here.
A: I was talking about the state of politics vis-à-vis Umno. We got a lot of messages in the last elections – the shift of support from the Barisan, the rise of new Opposition strength. We did not expect to lose Selangor, (it is) like losing a goldmine.
So if taken in totality, I think it says a lot about the issue of leadership – how leaders manage the country; why there is this shift of support which could be permanent.
If it is not addressed, we (Umno, Barisan Nasional) could go into oblivion.
Q: Change or fade away, is that your message?
A: That’s a concern which I think is real. (Tun) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) has cautioned about the danger that the Barisan Government is in. I cannot underestimate the thinking power of the former prime minister.
My view is that this Government should move forward, but in order to move forward, there is a need for very serious thinking by the leadership on the situation in the country.
My proposal is not for him (Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) to step down, it is for the PM to consider the succession plan. When the successor takes over, we can ensure that we will not continue to lose out to the Opposition.
As a Malay, I am concerned about the position of the Malays, not that they should be dominating but they should have a strong presence in running the country. Issues of trust and confidence, these are quite critical.
I have to speak out because I am very much a part of the party hierarchy. And I have received tremendous response from the grassroots who feel that I am saying something right.
Q: When you say you want a transition, does it mean that it should be announced now? Or can he (Abdullah) take his time?
A: I think leaders should understand. Incidentally, there is the party election this year. Whether this means a lot in contributing to what and when the decision has to be made, that I leave to the good judgment of the leaders concerned.
Q: But he (Abdullah) has stated that he will defend his presidency.
A: That is his prerogative and right to do so. It is in the (Umno) constitution, everybody has got the right.
Q: He is exercising his democratic right, then, to defend his presidency?
A: Yes. But there are people who want to contest against him. They, too, are exercising their democratic right. At the end of the day, it is the delegates who will decide.
If members think the time is right for change, then they will exercise their right. Like in the last general election, they wanted change and they got the change.
So now we leave it to the good judgment of the delegates whether the time is right for change. And I have spoken on many occasions, expressing certain areas of concern and interest that need to be addressed.
Whether the present leadership would be in a position to manage ? there is a big question mark. So, I leave it to the delegates to decide.
Q: Meaning you are against the 30% quota for anyone to contest the presidency?
A: Yes, I have expressed that because it is undemocratic. Some smart aleck came up with the idea that we should impose a certain quota system that you can only contest if you get a certain number of nominations.
Why do you need a certain quota imposed on them?
You have to cross the bar before you can exercise your right. That, for me, is undemocratic.
I actually put the matter to the then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir.
I was asked to go around the country to seek the views on how we want to relook the constitution, to do away with money politics. This (quota) was one of the matters that they raised with me, to please tell the supreme council that they do not want this quota system.
The quota system actually promotes money politics. So, when I presented this (feedback) to Dr Mahathir, he just shook his hand and said: “Leave it at that”. Now, he is saying, remove it. Of course, now he is no longer the PM.
But I would like for Umno to go back to where it was before. Whoever wants to contest, can contest. One nomination, a proposer and a seconder, like in the (general) election, that’s it.
Q: If the quota stays, do you believe that there could be challengers who could muster enough nominations?
A: When there is a condition imposed, there will always be attempts to frustrate those who want to contest. I nearly fell into that trap (before). I was an incumbent vice-president, and it was time for the party polls. But in Johor, there were hidden hands saying, “Don’t nominate Muhyiddin.”
Nominations were short of the 10% (quota) that I required. Then I made some noise that somebody up there is trying to manipulate the vote. After that, nominations started to fall like durian runtuh (a windfall). I qualified.
I was an incumbent. An incumbent normally has the right to contest but because of some manipulation to make sure you don’t get the numbers, you can’t even get to defend your post. This is not democratic.
Q: Party observers and your supporters are saying it is now or never for Muhyiddin. That you will have to make known your intentions.
A: I will cross the bridge when I come to it. There are a lot of advisers who say that I should climb up the party hierarchy, that I should contest this or that position. I am quite amazed with the proposals.
I think I will make the right decision when the time comes.
Q: You are not ruling out the possibility of going for the No. 1, or No. 2 post?
A: I don’t know. I have to size up a lot of things. Some people say (to me), “You have been vice-president for the last three terms. Maybe now you have to look at something else.”
But I have to be prudent as this is not an easy process.
You have to know that you are facing incumbents, the powers-that-be. It is not going to be a straight path that you can go through easily. I’m always calculating, to make sure I will not fall down halfway through. So, we will see what is going to happen.