Aug 4, 2006

Umno divisions defy orders on Mahathir

Umno divisions defy orders on Mahathir. They are inviting the former premier to talk to the party's rank and file

Extracted from The Straits Times

TUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad is spoiling to take his battle to where it really matters - the Umno heartland - but the party leadership is trying to foil his plans.

Yet, despite orders, some divisions are going ahead with organising functions where the former prime minister will speak to the party's rank and file.

This is a rebellion of sorts. Tun Dr Mahathir's supporters are getting around orders which say he is not to be invited to open any of the 191 divisional annual meetings being held this month by inviting him as a guest speaker.

It is also a move that could see friction between Tun Dr Mahathir and Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi intensify. The former premier will be gaining direct access to those who will have a vote in the party elections.

The elections are due next year but there is a strong possibility that they may be postponed to 2008.

Two divisions - the Padang Besar division in Perlis and Petaling Jaya North's youth wing in Selangor - have refused to back down from their plans to invite Tun Dr Mahathir to address their members.

They had been forced to withdraw their earlier invitations to him to open their meetings but he is now being invited as a 'guest speaker'.

Padang Besar division chief Zahidi Zainul Abidin said the former premier will now speak at a political rally in Perlis on Aug 26.

'Many Umno members from Perlis, Kedah and Perak want to listen to him, and we don't want to disappoint them,' he told The Straits Times.

As for the Petaling Jaya North youth division, its chief Azli Saad said Tun Dr Mahathir will address the meeting on Aug 12 after it has been officially opened.

'This is to show our respect for him,' he said.

And then there is Tun Dr Mahathir's own division of Kubang Pasu in Kedah. It is organising a birthday feast for him in the third week of August, giving him yet another platform to speak. He recently turned 81.

These pockets of disobedience, however, are few. And the organisers of these meetings are regarded as mavericks rather than mainstream Umno leaders.

But the party's leadership is still nervous enough to pressure them to call off these meetings - without much success so far.

There are fears that allowing Tun Dr Mahathir to take the battle to the ground could stir up discontent ahead of the next Umno assembly in November.

Some political analysts are speculating that Tun Dr Mahathir may spring a surprise at the assembly by wrangling an opportunity to speak. This is a remote possibility because the selection of speakers is tightly controlled.

It is, however, possible that he could appear as a delegate and receive a standing ovation. This would embarrass Datuk Seri Abdullah and send out a message that he is still a powerful force in the party.

There is talk that the ruling party might try to stall this by not inviting him to attend the assembly. But there are also reports that the Kubang Pasu division might counter this by nominating him as a delegate.

'If he attends, he could make things uncomfortable simply by being there,' said a political analyst.

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