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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Umno No 2 post: A poisoned chalice

Deputy Prime Minister and acting Umno No 2, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, is in a real bad mess.
Ever dependent on a reflex rather than an original thought, Zahid had taken on Bersatu chief Dr Mahathir Mohamad needlessly, and on a score that is considered lowdown: Zahid attacked Mahathir's ancestry.
What's more, it looks like the DPM has got himself badly bloodied in the process.
It was only as recently as May when Zahid declared his unwavering support for his boss, Umno president and Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.
Now, after Zahid provoked the former PM by attacking his ancestry, Mahathir has responded by telling about a visit Zahid made to him, shortly after the present home minister was made acting Umno deputy president and deputy prime minister, following Muhyiddin Yassin's sacking in July 2015.
Mahathir said the purpose of Zahid's visit was to seek support for an attempt to replace Najib as PM.
Mahathir revealed he told Zahid he did not think Najib would resign, but if he did it would be Umno that would decide Najib's replacement.

Assuming that such a visit took place, and for the purpose that Mahathir disclosed yesterday, Zahid was egregious in choosing to provoke Mahathir: you do not bait someone to whom you have left a hostage to fortune.
Zahid's provocation, which elicited Mahathir's response, was even more ill-considered at a time when most view Najib's recent appointment of Hishamuddin Hussein as special functions minister as a cover for the PM in the event of a mutiny led by Zahid.
How did Zahid get into this mess?
So, the politician who would more readily obey an edict of the National Fatwa Committee than a civil court order that conflicts with the fatwa is apparently caught in no man's land where, one would say, neither the guardians of religious rectitude nor the sentinels of secular probity are wont to go.
In short, Zahid is in a pickle. How did he get into this mess?
To be sure, Zahid has courted danger by blithely sauntering into territory where the angels that bid guard to the cautious fear to go.
In 2013, his shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach to criminal suspects was not exactly an unprecedented departure from police practice, given what had happened during a period of shootouts between police and suspected criminals, particularly in 1996.
That period of high fatalities to suspects in cops versus suspects shootouts had prompted then National Human Rights Society (Hakam) president, the late Raja Aziz Addruse (photo), to describe the police force as “trigger happy”.

Thus, Zahid's tough stance towards criminal suspects in 2013 was not without precedent. Still, it showed the home minister cared little for the possibility of innocent lives being snuffed out in crossfires between the police and suspects.
If that indicated a certain callousness on his part arising from a disdain for nuances, his call last week on Muslims to unite to prevent edicts of the National Fatwa Committee from being overridden by rulings of civil courts places in jeopardy his fidelity to the Federal Constitution he is sworn as a federal legislator to uphold.
What all this shows is a confusion in his mind as to the salience of the rule of law in a democratic polity that Malaysia is by dint of its constitution.
This, in spite of the ambiguity about its secular underpinnings created by the clause that holds Islam as the religion of the federation.
Also, in the contretemps he has ignited with Mahathir, it shows that Zahid is not able to manage the subtle balance required in holding the deputy's post in his party, which comes with the DPM-ship.
It's a balance between the necessity of swimming in his leader's slipstream while taking care to nurture his own personal agenda.
The subtlety of that balance is aided precisely by the attention to nuances Zahid scanted in the cops versus suspects clashes in 2013.
He is not the first DPM to find this balance difficult to bring off previous holders of the position have come unstuck, but not in as apparently flagrant – and egregious – a manner as Zahid.

Hishamuddin ought to take heart, but perhaps only for a brief span because the deputy's position has all the markings of a poisoned chalice.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. A sobering discovery has been that those who protest the loudest tend to replicate the faults they revile in others.- Mkini

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