March 25, 2009


By Wong Choon Mei
Malaysia’s ruling party, Umno, has barred at least six electronic media from covering their annual assembly and election that will see the unpopular Najib Abdul Razak becoming party president amid a storm of controversy.
A lot is at stake for the scandal-plagued 55-year old, as by convention, the Umno president becomes prime minister of the country.
However, because of the string of scandals dogging him involving not only accusations of graft, but also alleged complicity in the high-profile murder-and-commission case of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu, most Malaysians want their King to reject him for top job.
“The choice of Najib as prime minister is a huge mistake. Never before in our history has a leader with such a scandalous past record been appointed Prime Minister of Malaysia. It will bring great shame to us all,” said Shamsul Iskandar Akin, KeADILan Youth chief.
His party is spearheading a nationwide ‘Say NO To Najib’ campaign and intend to deliver a memorandum of protest to the King soon.
Fierce contest between factions expected
Already bitterly-divided, the once-mighty Umno is on course for a slug fest as rival factions battle for top positions.
The most watched will the contest for the deputy presidency between Najib’s favoured candidate, Trade Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, and Muhammad Muhammad Taib, a former Selangor chief minister aligned to outgoing president Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
The three-cornered Youth chief post will also be closely monitored because it will feature Abdullah’s son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin, Mohd Khir Toyo and Muhkriz Mahathir, the youngest son of Mahathir Mohamad, Najib’s mentor.
Cases of bias and outright cheating are not unknown in Umno’s election history. One of the most famous scandals took place in 1987 when Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah challenged Mahathir for the presidency.
Razaleigh lost by a mere 47 votes. Allegations of improper conduct and lights that were mysteriously switched off close to the announcement of the winner are vivid in the memories of many still-angry veterans.
The dispute even resulted in several members taking the party to court. In 1988, the High Court declared Umno illegal and Mahathir formed a new party - Umno Baru - although by now the legal lines have blurred and it is commonly known as Umno.
Accreditation denied
Meanwhile, Malaysiakini, Malaysian Insider, Siasah, Merdeka Review and The Nut Graph were among the Internet news providers denied accreditation to attend the Umno meeting, which begins today.
“We decided not to issue press tags to the bloggers,” said Umno official Hamid Sattar, adding that the decision was made at a high-level meeting.
Just a day ago, opposition news papers Suara KeADILan and Harakah were suspended for three months with immediate effect.
The crackdown will leave Malaysians with little source of information other than the reportage offered by the Umno-controlled media.

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