Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Brave show from sharp and direct Abdullah

(The Malaysian Insider) - KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 — With pressure mounting on the prime minister to quit now rather than later, this afternoon’s briefing by Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to all BN Members of Parliament, senators and state assemblymen had an air of seriousness befitting the circumstances BN finds itself in after 50 years of near uncontested rule that was disrupted by the tsunami of March 8.

The Dewan Tun Hussein at PWTC filled up quickly before 3pm with politicians from all BN component parties present to size up the PM and see for themselves whether he is a dead man walking.

While the PM’s poltical future depends more on Umno than the BN component parties, any desertion of the BN ranks will surely spell the end for Abdullah. Some representatives from states in which BN is now the Opposition came to listen to what Abdullah had to say about how to deal with life on the other side of the fence. MPs wanted to know what the tone of the debate should be like when Parliament convenes in two weeks.

Generally there was uncertainty in the air before the function. Just after 3pm, Abdullah walked in with Najib. As he made his way on stage there was a warm but subdued applause for him. As the emcee called out the names of the leaders on stage, beginning with Abdullah, Najib,and then all component chiefs including those who lost, the applause became warmer and the hard edge that people felt initially was softened.

There were no introductory speeches and Abdullah immediately took to the podium. Just as he had done with at the Umno information machinery gathering more than a week ago, Abdullah came out firm and confident.

He didn’t waste time on platitudes and boring sound bytes – typical of pre-tsunami Abdullah. He was sharp, articulate and bold. He told the BN

representatives that the party cannot afford to continue to dwell on the result of the election. It was time to move on.

He said the Opposition, despite losing the election, displayed confidence to the extent of styling themselves “the government-in-waiting.” He said the bickering that has consumed BN has given the impression to the rakyat that BN is now the “Opposition-in-waiting.”

He took to task BN leaders who take issues to the media, preferring to grandstand rather than resolve problems quietly.

He said he respected BN members’ freedom to speak but said that on legislative issues, he would crack the whip to make sure that everyone toed the party line.

He said that inter-BN cooperation was weak and that even the Opposition was showing a semblance of unity despite their ideological differences. Abdullah said that he kept on hearing BN parties complaining that when the elected representative was from one particular party, he or she would not look after constituents from another ethnic group.

He said that one major reason why BN suffered losses was because of the perception that BN was not a party for all and the component parties had their own agendas.

He told them to have fortnightly BN meetings at each constituency to make sure that government assistance was being fairly distributed to all communities.

Abdullah reminded representatives now in Opposition states that they must rise to the occasion like what BN did to recapture Terengganu in 2004. He said that when he led Umno Terengganu after the loss in 1999, they only had four representatives in the state assembly and yet they were able to come back and recapture the state.

Just before he ended, Abdullah sent a reminder to all BN representatives that the public perception of BN today is a party that is arrogant and corrupt.

He said as BN representatives the onus was on them to disprove this perception by going back to basics and being humble, approachable and getting rid of the culture of protocol that has seeped into the party.

Abdullah’s speech was received quite well. There was a genuine standing ovation at the end, although one Member of Parliament openly showed his disdain by refusing to stand up – Mukhriz Mahathir, son of Abdullah’s nemesis.

Once again, Abdullah has shown that he is willing to fight, at least to live another day. Although his survival still hangs in the balance, he seems to show some determination to lead even if it means taking hits daily from within his party.

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