Friday, September 5, 2008

It's all money, money, money, money, money

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 3 — If it was put to a vote today, Gerakan members would choose to leave Barisan Nasional. That damning verdict was given by Tun Dr Lim Keng Yaik, the party's former president and most influential voice.

But he added that this major decision will not be made until the issue has been debated exhaustively, and certainly not while emotions are still raw in the party which was decimated in Election 2008.

Still, the Umno and BN leadership should be prepared for the exit of Gerakan, judging by his pungent and pessimistic reading of the political situation.

In a wide-ranging interview with Off the Edge, the politician, who has made a living out of shooting from the hip, paints a grim picture of Umno, a party incapable of change and reform.

Worse yet, he did not think the party's current or next generation of leaders are enlightened. During the interview, he sketched the underlying reasons for Gerakan's and Barisan Nasional's dismal performance in Election 2008.

"We had the worst kind of Umno arrogance as a result of the 2004 elections. The abuse of power, corruption, negotiated tenders with government tenders going mainly to Umno-associated companies. All this is not decided by the Cabinet but by the Ministry of Finance. You think people don't know. Prices are jacked up and there is no check on the implementation of these projects.

"And then you had the Umno assembly and everyone saw how racist its members can become. All these things put us as a component party in a very difficult situation. And then Hindraf came into the picture. So we knew before going into March 8 that it was very bad, '' he said.

Dr Lim alleged that money politics culture in Umno also had an impact on the general elections, saying that all new Gerakan candidates were given "hell by the Umno divisional chairmen''.

"It's all money, money, money, money, money, '' he noted.

So has Umno understood the message which voters sent them on March 8?

"I don't think so. Or maybe they are too preoccupied with their own party elections to come around to thinking and analysing what happened. But I think, being racially based, they think they can still turn the Malay votes. So the first thing they did was talk to Pas, '' said Dr Lim, who joined MCA in the aftermath of its disastrous showing in 1969.

Given this backdrop, the mood in Gerakan is one of anxiety. Still, Dr Lim appeared willing to give Umno one last chance.

"I have been saying that we are not deserters. We are willing to work with and talk to our Umno partners to change and follow what people want in terms of less racial politics, more transparency. Don't just say you want to go against corruption; you must really go against corruption, starting with your own party – with your own party leadership – instead of just going for the civil servants.

"We have said in no uncertain terms that Umno must change…have they fallen into a pit and cannot climb out of it? Or will they try after they settle down after their party elections, '' he said.

He brought up the topic of reform with Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak recently, pointing that the DPM's father rebranded the Alliance after the political tsunami in 1969, by roping in Gerakan, PPP and SUPP.

"I asked Najib, are you thinking about rebranding Umno and BN? In terms of consumerism, the existing brand tak boleh pakai lagi, '' said Dr Lim, who conceded that Pakatan Rakyat's Ketuanan Rakyat is a good brand.

He did not say if Najib offered him an answer. But clearly, Gerakan wants to see some signs that Umno is prepared to change before committing to remain in Barisan Nasional.


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