High Stakes Speculation

by Dr Chan Chee Khoon

So will it be Badawi?

LIMA aerobatic stunts and aerospace joint ventures attempt to project an air of normalcy, but UMNO is clearly a party in crisis. A crisis of legitimacy, and therefore also a crisis of leadership. It’s difficult to see how Mahathir can regain a semblance of legitimacy to remain for long as an effective leader of UMNO, and of the Barisan Nasional.

Pak Lah? Still a force to be reckoned with, but far from an unassailable claim to the succession (which might induce an alliance with say, Ghani Osman?). Najib, ex-Menteri Besar of Pahang who squeaked through with a questionable margin of 241 votes in the Pekan parliamentary constituency, is hard put to mount a strong challenge either. Ku Li is in even worse shape. Mat Isa (Negeri Sembilan), on the strength of his TV1 performance last night can’t be considered a serious contender.

Ghani Osman, who delivered 100% of parliamentary and state seats from the UMNO heartland of Johor would be a very strong candidate next year for UMNO-VP, if not more.

One of Mahathir’s remaining cards is the lack of a leader of stature who could replace him, command sufficient credibility to begin the task of restoring UMNO’s sense of mission and aura of legitimacy.

Will the senior UMNO leaders nonetheless close ranks now in a negotiated move and compromise to ensure their collective self-preservation? Or will the party limp along in internecine, indecisive warfare among contending factions? More intriguingly, will the crisis escalate to a point that sets the stage for the re-entry of Musa Hitam, elder statesman and UMNO loyalist, untainted erstwhile opponent of Mahathir, ex-Young Turk nationalist latterly with "liberal" flavor, perhaps even secretly held in awe for his robust handling of Islamic "extremists"? In short, a savior of the party (perhaps in tactical alliance with Ghani Osman’s Johor UMNO faction?). What’s the alternative? Invite Anwar and keADILan back into UMNO’s fold—to heal the rift, and as a response to the PAS challenge -- but on Anwar’s terms?

Watch out for rombongan to the Tan Sri’s residence in the coming months. Even if not as Prime Minister in the wings, there may be mounting pressure on him to come out of political retirement.

3 December 1999