Cometh the ‘third force’
ANALYSIS By JOCELINE TANThe third force in Malaysian politics is getting more crowded as they vie to be the kingmaker in the event of a hung Parliament but some, like Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, may be eyeing the Prime Minister’s post.
TENGKU Razaleigh Hamzah was all dressed up for what seemed like a normal press conference. For someone who once admitted that he is colour blind, he was a picture of immaculate grooming.
Actually, he could have been mistaken for a prosperous banker or, dare we say, a Prime Minister-in-waiting?
The Kelantan royal politician had called the press conference to announce that Angkatan Amanah Merdeka, the NGO headed by him, was now open for business as it has been officially registered.
Amanah has joined a crowded field of what has become known as the “third force” in Malaysian politics, except that Tengku Razaleigh has still got one foot in Umno.
The third force groups range from small political parties like Parti Cinta Malaysia and kita, headed by millionaire lawyer Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, to civil society groups like the Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement (MCLM) headed by Haris Ibrahim. Even Perkasa is a third force group in its own right.
At one level, these groups are signalling there is a niche out there for those who have rejected the old politics of Barisan Nasional but have not completely bought into the so-called new politics of Pakatan Rakyat.
At another level, they are essentially politicians aspiring to be the “king-maker” in the event of a hung Parliament in the next general election.
“Each group comes to the table with a slightly different political message to sell,” said political analyst and UCSI academic Dr Ong Kian Ming.
MCLM, said Dr Ong, comprises pro-Pakatan activists and intellectuals who aim to address the issue of poor quality of candidates in Pakatan, especially from PKR.
KITA, on its part, has emerged as the only Malay-led party that has stood up for equal rights among all Malaysians and is not afraid to say it openly. It has even spoken up for religious conversions.
As Dr Ong noted, some of these groups are looking for a platform and voice, some comprise individuals who are looking for political survival while a few are hoping to cash out at the right time.
“On their own, they cannot knock out the established parties but they can cause a stomachache or headache,” said publisher Datuk A. Kadir Jasin.
Some of the third force groups are having headaches of their own.
For instance, kita, which was launched with a big bang earlier this year is embroiled in an internal feud even before it can really take off.
MCLM caused a stir when it was launched from London with the support of blogger-in-exile Raja Petra Kamarudin.
It has since nominated the well-known human rights lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar and the less-known dentist Dr Nedunchelian Vengu to run in the general election.
The next general election is going to be fierce and there will be a wild scramble to be candidates.
Pakatan is going to have as big and as ugly a headache as the Barisan in managing people fighting to be candidates.
Amanah, insisted its vice-president Wan Saiful Wan Jan, is strictly a civil society body.
“It is not like MCLM or kita nor is it about election candidates or where they should run. It’s about a group of people who want to make a difference,” he said.
Nevertheless, Tengku Razaleigh’s claim that he needs a new platform to speak because Umno restricts him does not really add up.
It is indeed a selective process to be picked to speak at the Umno general assembly but over and above that annual event, no one has been able to stop Tengku Razaleigh from speaking his mind and he has caused ripples with many of his comments.
He has a blog and journalists rush to his Langgak Golf “White House” each time he schedules a press conference.
In fact, he makes news because he is such a famous Umno face, he says things other Umno leaders would not say.
Speaking as the head of yet another NGO would not have the same impact. In the meantime, the perception that he is positioning himself for the Prime Minister post will persist.
Actually, he is more experienced and accomplished than the other aspiring candidates, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Datuk Seri Hadi Awang put together.
According to a Pakatan Rakyat insider, he could have been the catalyst had he come on board Anwar’s Sept 16 scheme in 2008.
He and Anwar met several times in the days leading up to Sept 16 but nothing happened because they simply did not have the numbers and even if they did, they would have ended up fighting each other for the top post.
Tengku Razaleigh has missed the boat one time too many and he is now banking on his final boat.
Ku Li goes on survival mode
COMMENT By BARADAN KUPPUSAMYCritics say Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is clutching at straws to remain relevant at a time when national politics has narrowed to a divisive tussle between Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat. There is no place for a third force like his newly-formed Angkatan Amanah Merdeka.
FORMER Umno vice-president Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has been vociferous in his criticism of the party and its policies, yet he says there is no room in it for dissent.
As president of the newly-formed Angkatan Amanah Merdeka, a non-governmental organisation that seeks to return to the comforting policies of first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, he hopes to remain relevant.
Ku Li – as he is popularly known – is trying for the political main chance at a time when his role in Umno and the country is fast dwindling.
Amanah is just another platform for him, in a career of many ups and downs for the political main chance that has missed him or, rather, the chances that he has missed.
An aristocrat, he wanted to be premier ever since he challenged Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the 1987 battle for the Umno presidency. He lost by a handful of votes, the nearest he would ever come.
His ally in that battle, former deputy president Tun Musa Hitam, made his peace and bred that power ambition out of him. But Ku Li is different. He keeps at it.
With Amanah, Ku Li is trying to keep his hopes for the top post alive.
Critics say he is clutching at straws to remain relevant at a time when national politics has narrowed to a divisive tussle between Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat.
There is no place for a third force like Amanah, an NGO in a field of many NGOs bidding for a political role.
The Gua Musang MP has taken a critical view of Umno ever since the original party was dissolved in 1988 and he went on to form Parti Semangat 46 that contested against the Barisan in the 1990 general election.
His new party joined forces with PAS, the DAP and the Indian Progressive Front to form the Gagasan Rakyat grouping which failed in its bid to oust the ruling party.
After failing to unseat Dr Mahathir in 1990, Semangat 46 closed shop and by 1995 Ku Li had returned to Umno.
When Dr Mahathir sacked Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in 1998, Ku Li had an opportunity to join forces with the axed deputy prime minister and take over the reformasi movement. But he failed to rise to the occasion, preferring to watch from the sidelines.
Unfortunately for Ku Li, he again missed the main chance when the top job moved to Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi after Dr Mahathir stepped down in 2003.
Ku Li tried to challenge Abdullah for the job but failed to get enough nominations because Umno coalesced around Abdullah and made short work of Ku Li’s attempt.
Throughout the six years of the Abdullah era, Ku Li stayed in Umno.
Anwar was released from prison in 2004 and began mobilising his supporters for the big polls battle in 2008, which netted for the Pakatan five states and 82 seats in Parliament.
In the uncertainties that followed Anwar’s undemocratic grab for power vis-a-vis the Sept 16 fiasco, Ku Li briefly came into the picture as possibly bringing to Anwar several Umno MPs to make up the necessary numbers to form a government.
But the promise never materialised and Anwar was not able to muster enough MPs to make the magic numbers although he did send emissaries in a hilarious chase that went all the way to Taiwan.
After the disaster of 2008 and with Abdullah giving way to Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in April 2009, Ku Li saw his chances for the top job shrinking even further.
Najib began the transformation of the country and, by most counts, is winning the hearts and minds of many Malays and Indian voters although the Chinese voters are still holding out.
The country is firmly on a path of no return to the old ways with the repeal of the ISA, banishment laws and media freedom. Ku Li is left, still in Umno, criticising the reforms as inadequate.
On the other side, Anwar is facing a second sodomy trial and other sex related accusations even as he tries to rally his supporters as he did in 2008.
Pakatan Rakyat is, however, in a survival mode and seeking to keep as much of the 2008 win as it possibly could.
With the national political scenery changed Ku Li finds that he is being squeezed out and so he came up with his Amanah, which is a vehicle to remain in the public eye.
Who knows the political circumstances might change again and Ku Li might just land himself the top job, although the chances of that has long eclipsed.