Green Party U.S. – Green Technology, Recycling & Alternative Energy News & Information
World Politics

Putting Paid To Money Politics in Umno

August 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

DATUK Dr Affifuddin Omar has been one of Parliament’s more regular faces.
And it appears that he intends to maintain his attendance record even
though he is now Deputy Finance Minister.
Affifuddin is the MP for Padang Terap, a remote constituency at the
foothills where Kedah merges into Thailand. He takes his constituency
duties seriously and is back in Kedah by Friday on most weeks.

For this Cornell University PhD-holder, moving into full-time politics
was, in a sense, an extension of his work as a government servant with
Mada, the agency which manages the sprawling landscape of padi fields on
the Kedah plains.
This intrinsic connection between politics and people is something that
Affifuddin is keenly aware of.
Unfortunately, he is nagged by the fear that contemporary Malaysian
politics is increasingly associated with earning a living or what the
Malays call cari makan.

This pecuniary face of politics tends to surface during an election and
next year is balloting year for Umno. Party branches are already meeting
and elections at division level will begin next month.
Affifuddin remembers all too well the cash-flushed Umno elections of
1993 and how he lost his bid for a seat on the Umno supreme council,
limping in the last 10.
“One of the reasons I lost was because I refused to use money. I
believed I had to set an example.”

Affifuddin was approached not once, but twice, by what he describes as
“agents” with offers to meet and address groups of delegates. Both offers,
had he accepted, would have cost him RM10,000 each.
“I refused … I didn’t mind losing votes. I hope such things will not
happen this time around. Even the PM has made it clear that he will not
tolerate more of it,” he says.
The intense lobbying for party positions in 1993 is said to have
redefined money politics. Delegates were feted to lavish dinners, put up
at posh hotels, laden with gifts of watches, pens, crockery sets and even
trips to Mecca and Medan.

It was said that Bank Negara ran dry of RM1,000 and RM5,000 notes at the
height of the campaign. One delegate, with whom Affifuddin is acquainted,
returned so well-rewarded that he could afford a second-hand Proton Saga.
About six months later, an Umno extraordinary general assembly was
convened to discuss money politics and amendments aimed at plugging the
problem were passed after fiery speeches condemning the practice.
In that sense, the first test of the effectiveness of the amendments
will be at next year’s party elections. The process has already begun at
branch level.

“It will also be a test of the party’s commitment against money
politics,” says Umno Youth treasurer Zahari Wahab.
He says it is imperative that the resolutions on money politics work at
the branch and division levels otherwise “money politics in Umno will
Umno Youth, for one, has taken a proactive stance. Its acting chairman,
Datuk Nazri Aziz, who admits that “money politics reached a critical
stage” in 1993, has set up a committee to handle complaints of money
politics at Youth meetings.

Its State-level leaders have also been instructed to monitor Youth
meetings at branch and divisional levels.
“It will be difficult to stop money politics but we can check it …
otherwise, I dare not imagine what will happen,” says Nazri.
Universiti Malaya’s Dr Hussein Mohamed thinks money politics in Umno
began when Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah challenged Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir
Mohamed for the presidency in 1987.
But Nazri says it began much earlier, during the Razaleigh-Musa face-

He adds: “Since then, members have come to equate their votes and
support with money. The amount used has snowballed.”
Says Professor Zakaria Ahmad, head of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s
Strategic Studies Unit: “Those of us who study Third World politics often
get the impression that if you want to get rich quick, politics is the
Unsurprisingly then, there is scepticism that rules and prohibitions can
prevent what is basically clandestine and between two consenting adults,
namely the giver and receiver.

Youth exco member Khaled Nordin, who is also Johor Baru MP, says it is a
struggle between individual political interest and that of the party.
“Everyone agrees that the party’s interest must come first but the
challenge is in putting that into practice,” he adds.
While rules are necessary in the short term, Umno supreme council member
Datuk Syed Hamid Albar stresses that strong moral values are needed for
these rules to work in the long term.
“Some leaders say they have to give in to money politics because their
followers demand things in return for support. Just because they demand
doesn’t mean you have to give. You are the leader, you should lead,” he

His worry is that if leadership is attainable through money politics,
then politics would be open only to the highest bidders.
“Those with lots of money are not necessarily good leaders,” says this
Johor MP whose father, Tan Sri Syed Albar, was hailed as the Lion of Umno.
The other danger, adds Hussein of Universiti Malaya, lies in the fact
that leaders who rise through money politics will be beholden to their
Their ability to discern is liable to be clouded by considerations that
may not necessarily benefit the party or society. Genuine grassroots
leaders would not get the chance to surface because they do not have the
monetary means and the party will be deprived of the best.
Those who pursue politics for power forget the larger purpose of
politics that is to be found in the Quran, says Umno Youth’s Saifuddin

“Politics as defined by Islam is definitely not for self-gain,” he says.
Saifuddin is the energetic political secretary to Syed Hamid and the
Muslim in him is disturbed by the way in which the value system of Malays
seems to have shifted from its traditional focus of the local mosque to
the shopping mall.
“Our concept of development pays lip service to the concept of integrity
and the holistic development of man. There has to be more emphasis on
moral and spiritual development,” he says.
While not everyone may agree that a materialistic lifestyle is sinful,
few would condone achieving it through corrupt politics.
And if rules are to have credibility, action must be taken against its
practitioners even if he or she is a “big fish”, says Zakaria of
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Nazri agrees: “If members realise we are serious about acting against
those who use money politics, I believe they will toe the line.”
Generally, the main torso of Umno remains optimistic of the battle
against what Syed Hamid has described somewhat dramatically as “the cancer
of politics”.
“My father saw politics as a continuous struggle, and to keep going, you
have to believe that you have something to contribute. I constantly remind
myself of this.”
He holds the view that the majority still go into politics because they
“believe in something” and that those who embrace politics for self-gain
are a small proportion as yet.

Saifuddin seems to agree. He points to the way the votes were spread out
in the contest for the supreme council seats in 1993: “Deep in their
hearts, Umno members want religious, effective and clean leaders.”
Both politicians and political observers advocate a more open discourse
on money politics.
The media in particular, says Universiti Malaya political scientist Dr
Firdaus Abdullah, can help create greater consciousness of the problem by
highlighting efforts to curb it.
Greater scrutiny on the part of the media can help inculcate a more
accountable body of politics.
Nazri agrees: “The problem should be discussed openly. I have always
said we are not a party of angels … we are a party of human beings.
Besides, only those with something to hide will not want to talk about

Comments are closed.