Like any other members, I love Umno. No doubt about it. Even without the exposure given since I was 5, I would opt for Umno for its mediocrity in attending to our multiracial society. Yes, there were major crisis hitting the party but it took just a while for partisans to reconcile and go back to square one.
I was offered a position in the Youth wing for Masjid Tanah division in 1987, thanks to a close aide of Rahim Tambychik. However, I declined for two simple reasons. First, I was residing in Kuala Lumpur and only went back once or twice a month; and secondly, I didn't have the money to move my politics. So, it was better to help the party from the sideline.
I am of the opinion that a candidate for any divisional position must me chosen among those who resides, works and moves actively within his division. He has to be popular among the constituents for his personal character - a heart winner, humble and easy to access. He has to be a person who has the will to listen and find outlets to domestic problems, someone whom the grass root members can trust and confide.
At that time, few journalists made it successful in politics. My seniors, Ruhanie Ahmad or Ron and Ashaari Ibrahim were among them. Some also tried but faltered.
It is not practical having someone who works in KL or Penang to become our branch and division head, unless the members agree to it. In most cases, grass root members would not allow such a practice, especially when the office bearer is someone they don't know and not familiar with.
During the 2007 party election, I was an observer to votings at my branch. A prominent Datuk who resides and works in KL was booted in his first attempt to lead the branch although he was born and brought up in our kampung. However, he got a job in KL and seldom make it 'home' after that. My kampung buddies finally chose a primary school teacher for the post.
Since Dr Mahathir became prime minister in 1981, Umno 'regulated' another provision - that those who want to contest any party positions must be qualified professionals, i.e doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, etc. It didn't matter if they are close or not to their constituents and it was not important if the members like him or not.
If the members refused to endorse him, someone from the Supreme Council or the Chief Minister's rep will come down to convince them that the State's leadership was giving them the right division leader, and as such they must support him. And when he won the State or Parliamentary seat in the general election, he 'disappeared' for good.
And so, you need some money for politics. Enough or not, any amount has to suffice. A Terengganu politician whom I helped campaign for a Supreme Council seat in the early 1990s, failed to make it because he only got RM1,200 in his pocket. How much do you expect a general assembly's delegate ask? However, he made it at the next party election.
I have seen money changing hands at the PWTC, Pan Pacific and other hotels each time Umno held its election. Former Bernama editor-in-chief Jaafar Hussein and NST reporter, the late Azran Aziz were once offered cash and a wrist watch to usher some delegates to certain hotel rooms. If not for Datuk Jef's warning that we could face the music, I would have taken that RM5,000 'upah'.
As a journalist, I was bound to travel throughout the country for various assignments. One of the usual thing I liked to do after every Umno general assembly was to take a few days leave to conduct a 'grass root survey' in some chosen areas. My common question to them is - how has the party general assembly and election affected them? We will come to this part in my final (part 3) posting on Friday.
The general assembly is when politicians become so chummy with reporters and members of the media. Umno general assembly often becomes a beano for some opportunists. Each and every Umno leader and delegate attending it will look like a grandee. Everybody wants to show off something, if not in their long and bric-a-brac' speech, at least in their attire and their cars.
When Dr Mahathir was deputy prime minister (I was already in college), I did follow my uncle to an Umno general assembly at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP). He was not a delegate but as a member eager to watch the proceedings. Not many cars were parked in that area as most delegates took the public transport. Speeches were centered at efforts to uplift the Malays' standing, economically and socially. No rhetoric, no unduly sycophant speeches.
Compared to the present time, speeches are deemed not complete without rhetoric, bombastic words, hadith and a 5 to 10 minutes 'full of praise and support' for the party's top leadership, namely the president, deputy president and the three vice presidents. The delegates chosen to speak or enter a debate too will try to impress others, notably the leaders, with their well-colored-sweetened words.
After covering and attending dozens of Umno general assemblies, I can't recall anybody praising the grass root members for choosing and staying with Umno... or at least a simple attribution for their support all this while!
to be continued...