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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Forget idealism. For Umno elections today, cash is still king

A survey by Merdeka Center released today found 83 per cent of the Malay party members agreeing that the money politics culture must be stopped. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa© Provided by Malay Mail A survey by Merdeka Center released today found 83 per cent of the Malay party members agreeing that the money politics culture must be stopped. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
KUALA LUMPUR, June 30 — Following Barisan Nasional’s election defeat and Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s resignation, the vacuum at once-ruling party Umno’s top leadership has further widened.
At the party’s internal election today, five men have offered themselves to lead the party towards its rejuvenation and glory, but most members have rallied behind the three most notable candidates: vice-president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, former Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, and comeback “kid” Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
With seven men vying for the three vice-president posts, and a whopping 124 candidates in total for 25 Supreme Council seats, there will however not be any Team A versus Team B, nor a Team C this time around.
Neither will the ideological battle for reforms matter much.
Instead, sources told Malay Mail that votes will be determined by just one thing: just how deep the candidate’s pockets are.
“There is no reference or script or narrative anymore for this elections, it’s all up for grabs. The clearest proof of this is in the number of candidates contesting for the top posts ... It’s crazy and never heard of but this is the reality today,” said a division chief, who wished to remain anonymous.
“To me, to try and understand the alignment — as in which camp supports which camp — is futile and nonsensical.
“At the heart of it all is still about money, who has the ability to oil the machinery, so to speak, will win the most votes,” he added.
Last month, Umno secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Mansor had informed party divisions that they will no longer receive monthly stipends, but were told to carry on with their operations anyway.
Speaking to Malay Mail, Sri Gading division chief Datuk Ab Aziz Kaprawi asserted that Umno’s finances were now restricted after police seized RM116 million in 26 different foreign currencies from two condominiums occupied by former president Najib.
Umno Strategic Communications Unit had previously requested that police return the millions seized from Najib, claiming these were party funds that it urgently needed for the rebuilding process following its 14th general election defeat.
However, Bukit Aman Commercial Crime Investigation Department director Commissioner Datuk Seri Amar Singh said this week that nobody from Umno has yet come forward to claim part of the cash.
With the party strapped for cash, delegates look likely to vote those seen to be able to continue running things, regardless of their idealism.
“Now that the tap stopped running, you think anyone is going to bother? No,” the Umno source said, referring to the election.
In the run up to the party election, several Umno members have expressed concern that the candidates they support may be disadvantaged due to their relative financial situation.
It has been suggested that some party leaders had hardly spent the allocations given to them for the 14th general election campaigning—inevitably leading to Barisan Nasional’s downfall.
Instead, they had allegedly kept the money in their own pockets only to be used for their own personal campaigning come the party election.
Some Umno members met during the party campaign trail also complained that their rivals, who have access to party funds meant to run the internal election, have allegedly used it instead to buy votes from delegates: from as little as RM300 to RM500 per head.
“If they say Umno is now clean of money politics and it’s all about reform, then they are not as honest,” said the division chief, referring to the candidates.
“It’s true that there are segments that want reform and all that but money is still king.
“The clearest indicator to this is how Umno candidates that contested in GE14 actually stashed the money given to them for campaigning so they can spend it for the party polls,” he added.
Zahid, who is currently acting president, could not be reached for comments. Acting deputy president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein is not seeking reelection, following his cousin Najib’s resignation.
But Khairy has denied allegations of money politics among his rivals, saying the fight has been clean so far.
“There’s no need to revert to the old ugly stereotype of Umno elections and I hope all candidates will refrain from money politics and character assassination,” the Rembau MP told Malay Mail at the sidelines of a meet-and-greet in Kota Kinabalu this week.
“At the end of the day we want Umno to come out as a stronger party from the elections. If we character assassinate, one of the main candidates, those who will feel the effects is the party itself.”
Assets up for grabs
Although the funds are drying up, it is believed that Umno still has many assets under its control, including properties and shares.
It still owns the Putra World Trade Centre and Menara Tun Hussein Onn, and part of media group Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd.
Tengku Razaleigh, also known as Ku Li, was reported saying that the assets are nationwide and worth billions of ringgit, but are placed under the names of certain individuals and trustees, including some who have resigned their positions.
“Most of them are in Kuala Lumpur not only at the Umno’s headquarters but the land we bought in housing schemes and others,” he said in a Bernama report.
“I am clearly aware of this, each division has its office and it is located in a strategic area whose value is certainly increasing from year to year.
Ku Li said Umno had owned many tracts of land in Kuala Lumpur, including in the upscale neighbourhood of Bangsar which is worth more than RM1,000 per square foot.
“I think that if every building is worth RM50 million, imagine what the buildings nationwide are worth in total,” he was quoted saying.
Khairy, in his manifesto, has pledged to restructure these assets with professionals and members with corporate background, so the returns can be channelled to fund the activities of Umno at the division level.
He has also pledged to prioritise the grassroots, promising even to “shrink” the party’s office.
Effectively, whoever wins the party polls would then be the one controlling these assets.
And with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission confirming to Malay Mail on Thursday that Umno’s bank accounts have been frozen as part of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) probe, the stakes are now much higher.
But Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan has downplayed the magnitude of these assets.
“I am telling you this managing the assets is the least of our concern. Yes it is important but what is more important is that do you have a vision for the party, that’s all.
“What we need now are good leaders,” said the former Kota Belud MP, who is also vying for a seat in the Supreme Council.
Umno members have also urged party leaders to eradicate money politics, with a Merdeka Centre survey released yesterday saying 83 per cent of the 691 members polled feeling that way.
Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki had won the Umno Youth chief post last week despite his lack of ties to any factions, and he told Malay Mail his victory was a testament that the party has moved beyond money politics.
“I had experience [with money politics] back in 2008 when I lost at the division level. Since then, I didn’t contest in party elections because my phobia,” he told Malay Mail in an interview yesterday.
But he said he picked up the courage the contest the post this year, and his observations during campaigning ostensibly showed that the previous the culture of money politics is now absent.
“My winning symbolises money politics is no longer relevant in Umno. All the negative campaign are no longer relevant because people want change.
“You can pay them but people don’t buy it, don’t trust you because they want change.
“I see there is a positive wave within Umno members that they want change. My win manifested that change they want,” the former deputy minister said.

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