The claim by certain Ketua Pemuda candidate defending the current administration brought openness comes with the conflicting criticism, smear and claims from his supporters on Mukhriz as disloyal to the party.
They say life's cycle repeat itself.
Within this short time span, the same candidate that once manouvered and stab Mukhriz for his dissenting voives are now copying his past actions as mouthpiece of the grassroot and rakyat as slogan.
How ironic? What contradiction?
Throughout his tenure as Exco member of Pemuda UMNO, Mukhriz had repeatedly being faced with calls to have him disciplined, suspended, and expelled by the politicking political competitors.
The poor results at GE12 and two by-elections losses proved that if the leadership had the been truly more open and responsive to the dissenting feedback of this Ketua Pemuda candidate, the shamble the party is in would have been avoided.
The problem is Mukhriz could not severe himself from being seen as mouthpiece of his father and perceived as a piece in his father's political chessgame. Whatever such claims, it still takes courage and aptitude to be heard.
In his NST Sunday interview, Mukhriz spoke of the importance for party to have voices in the party playing the check and balance role, a role he has been playing withmuch resistance from within. That is the crutch of his change message for Ketua Pemuda which UMNO sorely need now.
If anything, the last five years demonstrate the fact that having yes man singing sweat nothings to the boss came at an expensive price. The repeated flip flop, and wrong decisions cost the party and not withstanding jeopardise the party leadership.
Mukhriz was not merely spewing rhetorics and empty promises but lived his call to revive the traditional check and balance role of Pemuda UMNO to speak for the truth and without fear. This is the emphasis of Mukhriz's slogan for brevity of change. It is also to convey to the UMNO grassroot that there exist within UMNO the culture of democrasy.
Lets not be misled by his polite and soft spoken demeanour. This young politician has no fear to express what the leadership needs to be told. In the last five years, where his competitor were either a defensive chorus boy echoing empty support or recalcitrant itself to dissenting views, he was the sole voice dare to be honest and brave to face the consequences.
If his father was repeatedly criticised by his critics for suppressing voices from below, which the informed would vehemently deny and believed it is to the contrary, perhaps this where Mukhriz differ from his father. Mukhriz has proved that he is no lembik - a repeated immature label smearing on him - and chorus boy.
Where was that robust and vociferous leader when the party sorely needed that pre-emptive honest feedback?
The full Interview below:
`In Umno, I believe, there is room for dissent'
New Straits Times, March 1st, 2009
Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir is arguably one of the persons to watch in March's Umno assembly. He talks to SHERIDAN MAHAVERA about his short but extremely eventful political career, the travails of being a dissenter and why Umno needs shock treatment.
Q: You've received the highest number of nominations from the Umno Youth divisions. So, is this a sign that you have a good chance of getting elected in March?
A: I hope so although people have told me that nominations don't necessarily reflect the number of votes you'll get. For the life of me, I don't understand why this is so. Delegates have the right to vote whoever they please. At the same time, I would think that the mandate given by their respective divisions should be followed through by them at the Umno Youth elections. Nominations come from the grassroots who represent a larger segment of people in the divisions. So, the high number of nominations I received indicates that I am accepted by the people and I hope this is translated into votes at the end of March.
Q: Why is there a gap between what the grassroots want and how the delegates themselves vote in the end? Is it because they are bribed at the assembly?
A: I can't say for sure. Sometimes, the divisional elections follow trends in the nominations. There are 4 1/2 months between the nominations and the actual voting day. There are a lot of things that can happen in that period. Some say that the elections are a marathon but I think that it's more a marathon with hurdles and hazards, and people's minds can change during that period. So, you cannot avoid the campaign trail to ensure that those who support you remain supportive and to persuade the fence-sitters. You have to remain vigilant so that support does not deteriorate.
Q: You made your debut five years ago and you have risen quickly to national prominence. How much of this meteoric rise was due to your lineage?
A: I have to correct that as I did not intentionally debut late in politics. I have always wanted to get into politics but my father (former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) disallowed me. So, I had to wait until he retired in 2003 and offered myself to contest in 2004. To say that between 2004 and 2008 my rise was meteoric is incorrect as it implies that things have been easy for me. I've contested for every single position. I lost my first contest, which was for Kubang Pasu Umno division Youth chief, only later to win in the division's executive council with the highest number of votes and also in the national Youth executive council, again with the highest number of votes. I did not win uncontested and I was not appointed. I admit that my career has been short but I have had my share of troubles because I chose to be vocal on certain things to the extent where I am seen as a dissenting voice in the party. There were several occasions when it was suggested that I should be disciplined, suspended or even expelled from the party for speaking against the leadership's decisions. So, I don't see how my rise has been meteoric. I also became a member of parliament in a tough fight in Jerlun. Pas had huge support there and I had to slog it out with their candidate. My margin was not a comfortable one.
Q: Your father was also an active dissenter when he started out. He was known for speaking out against the leadership to the point that he even got kicked out of the party and you seem to be following in his footsteps. Is this intentional or does it run in the blood?
A: It is not intentional. If all was well, even if it ran in the blood, I would not have the need to speak out. If good decisions were being made in the interests of the people, then why would there be a need to criticise? But some decisions by the government do not go down well with the rakyat, for example when the price of oil was increased. The government slashed oil subsidies and this caused problems for the rakyat. It is evident from the Permatang Pauh and Kuala Terengganu by-elections results that the rakyat was not too happy with how the government handled it.
Q: You are not afraid to take positions that can be seen as treacherous to the Umno leadership, like asking the prime minister to resign after the March elections. Do you believe that Umno leaders should be given the chance to be dissenters in the party?
A: It is not about always dissenting when it comes to the party's decisions. It is about playing a check and balance role where we gauge the sentiments on the ground and someone needs to convey this to the powers that be. The downfall of a leader is when he surrounds himself with yes-men. You will get blind-sided by sudden big events that you should have known would happen well ahead of time. I understand that some people tend to mengampu (bootlick), but this should not be at the expense of the boss making the wrong decisions and jeopardising his position. It is not in my nature to dissent. Who in his right mind, without any basis, would go out of his way to be confrontational? When I find that things need to be said, and no one is saying them, then I feel compelled to bring them up. In the 12th general election, the leadership said that we won and that we were eight seats away from a two-thirds majority. This is despite losing five states, a drastic drop in the popular vote and having to depend on Sabah and Sarawak to shore up the votes. That means we must be surely in a state of denial. If no one was talking about it, then I feared that we were going down the path to ruin. I just could not be a part of that. Since there has been no action against me, I take it that there is room for dissenting voices. This is an important message for the grassroots; that within Umno, we are open to constructive criticism. If action was taken against me, the message would have been that in Umno there is no culture of tegur-menegur (constructive criticism). I find that very odd because outside Umno there is tolerance for criticism but within we are told to shut up.
Q: Is this tegur-menegur the change that you want to bring to Umno Youth?
A: Definitely. One of things that members have told me is that Umno Youth has not played its role as a voice of the people to convey the message of the grassroots to the leaders. I want to bring that back to Umno Youth.
Q: And they feel this ability to tegur-menegur has drastically declined in Umno Youth?
A: Yes. For example, when I had said at the 2006 general assembly that the president's policy speech contained nothing new, the reaction from certain quarters in the party meant that we are not meant to criticise the president. At that time, the corridors (of the Putra World Trade Centre where the assembly took place) were full of Umno and Barisan Nasional leaders who I was dead sure were complimenting the speech. I felt there was a need for a contrarian view as when I was in the hall with the other delegates listening to the speech, people were critical of the president and the speech. Yet, at the end of it, he got a standing ovation. I felt strange that we were dishonest with ourselves. The policy speech is one where he sets the policy for the next term and we are supposed to spread this message to the branches later on. It's an extremely important speech and when my father had to prepare it, he went on leave for two weeks overseas. My father said the Umno president's policy speech is by far the most important speech he has to deliver every year. So, when I listened to the 2006 speech, I could not help but feel disappointed because it was a cut and paste speech. There were parts brought in from the previous year's budget speech and from the Ninth Malaysia Plan. In fact the president actually said that he was going to mention things he had already said. But I did thank the president for asking members to pray for my father's health and for mentioning Vision 2020 which showed continuity in government policy.
Q: Is this tegur-menegur related to how you recently said that Umno Youth has to return to its original struggle and be like a non-governmental organisation?
A: Being the largest party in the country, securing the most seats in Parliament and running the government, it is difficult to disassociate Umno from the government. Still, I feel that Umno Youth should present itself as a very active NGO and not act as if it was the government. Unfortunately, the perception is that we are a mouthpiece of the government even if decisions made at the top level are unpopular. I understand that governance means doing the right thing and at times the right thing is not popular. But having said that, (when) things don't seem right and Umno Youth has to bring it up to the powers that be that unless there is strong basis for that decision, we need to be convinced so that we can convey the message to the public. If we are unable to do that, then we have failed as a youth wing to the ruling party.
Q: Before Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo got the requisite number of nominations, the contest was largely framed as one between you and Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin and people were reading a lot of things into it, such as that it was a proxy battle between your father and Khairy's father-in-law (Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi). How did you feel about it?
A: We all get dragged into circumstances. Though I am my father's son, I don't always agree with him though I agree with most things he does. I don't deny that people could see it that way. I don't go out of my way to distance myself from my father's image. Like when people say that you're representing the return of Mahathirism? I basically tell them that if by that you mean the return of strong economic growth, stability, strong ties with most countries in the world, then why not? If it is good, call it whatever you like; we should strive for it.
Q: There is this view that Mahathirism clashes with what this administration stands for. Since you are in a contest with Khairy, it seems that there is a clash.
A: If the decision made by the present government does not seem to be in the interests of the people, then my father's going to speak up. It took us such a long time to get where we are right now and it does not take very much for everything to disintegrate. Umno as a party -- it sure feels like it's disintegrating. The party is in its comfort zone and this is the problem because they do not realise that they are no longer in the zone. We need shock treatment to wake up. The March 2008 elections were a wake-up call. The Permatang Pauh by-election was more like a fire alarm that the house is burning down.
Q: And in the Kuala Terengganu (by-election), the house did burn down (laughs).
A: Yes, literally (laughs). I don't know how you would describe Kuala Terengganu. I still think we are oblivious. Why would one go into an election without the intent to win? If in your first move, you tell people I don't mind losing, that message will perpetuate itself. From the word "Go", we are already on the wrong footing, and I worry about the two by-elections that are coming up. There is this tendency to retain tradition in terms of seat allocations at the expense of winning. I wonder if we have our priorities right. I would not go into a contest knowing that I have to make decisions that could lead to a loss. We must go into a contest to win.
Q: How do you feel about the new leadership that is coming in March?
A: I hope that Datuk Seri Najib Razak is given a strong team that shares his ambitions and aspirations. This is not the time to be experimenting as the stakes are too high.
Q: What do you mean by experimenting?
A: Some people say that we have to adhere to democratic principles all the way in the party. To me, if there is a more important principle, then we should consider that as well. The Besut Umno division suggested that the deputy and vice-president posts should not be contested at this time and there should be a compromise. We have a looming global economic depression and we are still stuck in a quagmire of politics. It is sad that the opposition is not with the government and is harping on childish issues and is a distraction. They should tone down and come and help us. In a democracy, we have choices, but sometimes we do not make the right choices. Right now, we cannot afford to make mistakes and do not need the additional burden of internal politicking when we have a depression looming over our heads. There is a direct connection between economics and politics. Failure to solve economic problems will lead to rejection by the people. I expect the new leadership, and Najib himself, to look into transforming Umno and the BN into something that is more palatable to the people. It's a sign of the times and we have been slow adapting to circumstances and we have made mistakes along the way. In the last four years, support for Umno has gone down and to win back this support, we need drastic change. I am confident that Najib is aware of this and he is putting in place strategies to restructure the party. There is no use rebranding without substantial changes. We are really short of time, politically and economically. We are looking to him to make decisive moves to face the problems we have.
Q: If you were given the power to change things in Umno, what would it or they be?
A: Quite a few things, but the most difficult would be members' mindset. It is quite apparent that money is playing a big role in influencing decisions at all levels. We need strong and decisive action on this.
Q: You're saying that Umno needs to be de-monetised?
A: Exactly. Political parties are supposed to stand for good values. How are people supposed to support us if we don't represent honesty, integrity, hard work, trustworthiness and a willingness to sacrifice? That is not the perception that people have of Umno. Anything we say is not taken seriously because it is as if we have no credibility. It's sad because opposition leaders claim the moral high ground when we know they are from unscrupulous backgrounds. Yet they can lecture us and it makes me sick to the stomach.
Q: That happens because the perception is that Umno does not have the moral high ground because of the money that has been attached to Umno's reputation.
A: That's the major one, the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. We have front page news reports of our people being handcuffed and interrogated. The message that should get across is that we are serious in combating money politics to the point of taking action against our own. Why is that message not getting across? People come to me to report how the opposition uses money in their own party elections. They (Pakatan Rakyat) run five state governments and they have been bitten by the bug. Yet, they do not talk about it, not like us. If you don't talk about it, it means you are not serious in combating it. At least Umno talks about it to the point of embarrassing itself.
Q: No matter how vocal people in Umno talk about money politics and you get vice-presidents suspended and supreme council members charged in court, everyone thinks that there is still more corruption. At the same time, no one thinks that Pakatan Rakyat has the capacity to be just as corrupt.
A: I think we need to manage our public relations and image better. Also the perception is that only the small fry are caught and not the sharks. I hope if there is enough evidence, action is taken immediately because we have no time to waste. We cannot be going into the actual voting day with this hanging over our heads.
Q: The impression now is Umno has become a party of vested interests. That people go into Umno to get money. How do you change that?
A: I ask division members a very basic question and that is: "Why did you join Umno?" Many say because their parents are Umno members. Otherwise, many of them can't say (laughs).
Q: Or they can't say honestly?
A: Yes (laughs). It becomes even more complicated when we have lost five states; so, it's not the gravy train that people have made it out to be. What's the point of becoming an Umno member for your own self interest when you are in a state ruled by Pakatan? So, the lines are getting blurred. Maybe this is an opportunity to show the public that if your intention to become an Umno member is not based on the struggles of the party, then perhaps the party is not right for you. But before we can say that, we have to clean ourselves up first.