Monday, August 14, 2017

Zahid Hamidi: the primate alpha male that would be prime minister (updated)

Political animal: Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (photo: The Malaysian Insider)

In the late 1990s Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, former disciple of Anwar Ibrahim, was one of Umno’s young turks impatient for power and glory. In 1998, as an Umno Youth divisional chief, Zahid led a campaign to expose corruption and cronyism within the party. Their real target, of course, was the colossus of money politics, Dr Mahathir.

But Mahathir deftly turned the tables on Zahid by revealing the goodies he had received from pro-Anwar business tycoons. When Anwar got fired in September 1998, Zahid Hamidi was among his close supporters in the nascent Reformasi movement.

Following another street demonstration against Mahathir, Zahid Hamidi was arrested under the ISA along with many others, but was quickly released, after he caved in and denounced Anwar as the main instigator of the rebellion within Umno. Although he resigned as Bagan Datoh Umno Youth chief, Zahid remained an Umno member and began plotting his slow but steady return to political favor.

Born-again Umnoputra

The finger-pointing game
In 2004 after Abdullah Ahmad Badawi won a landslide victory, Zahid Hamidi got his break as deputy minister of tourism. He began studying for a doctorate from UPM to upgrade his political credentials. After the March 2008 election which saw BN lose its coveted two-thirds parliamentary majority, Zahid was promoted to full minister in the PM’s department. When Najib Razak took over from Abdullah Badawi in April 2009, a cabinet reshuffle saw Zahid Hamidi appointed defence minister.

Before entering politics, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was a banker with OCBC, and he later became a director of Bank Simpanan Nasional, as well as Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB).

There is no doubt that Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (born 4 January 1953 of mostly Javanese ancestry) is a political animal through and through in the traditional Umno warlord mode. Having nearly got derailed early in his career by backing the wrong horse, he became a born-again Umnoputra, throwing his lot in with whichever faction had the advantage.

Umno Youth leaders Khairy Jamaluddin & Hishammuddin Hussein laugh their heads off

As defence minister Zahid Hamidi took the heat off his boss Najib by making a big noise over the Scorpene scandal, although he himself was never directly involved in the deal. 

In appreciation Najib offered him the powerful home ministry portfolio, after Najib’s cousin Hishammuddin Hussein made a big fool of himself, especially with his heavy-handed mishandling of the Bersih rallies. Hishammuddin took over the defence portfolio, where he could maintain a lower public profile, while safeguarding his cousin’s interests in terms of ongoing arms deals.

Family scandal

Almost as soon as he stepped into his new office as home minister, Zahid Hamidi began shooting from the hip by talking tough and taking vindictive action against organizers of PKR’s Black 505 rallies, following upon the disappointing results of the 13th general election - which opened the public’s eyes to the fact that BN had stolen almost every election since Mahathir’s ridiculously extended term as PM through shameless gerrymandering, rigging of the electoral roll, and postal votes.

Less than a month into his new job, Zahid Hamidi was hit by a major scandal when news broke that a businessman named Amir Bazli Abdullah had filed assault and battery charges against him dating back to January 2006 – when Zahid had allegedly punched Amir at the Country Heights Recreational Club in Kajang. 

On a different occasion, Amir claimed that several men abducted him from a petrol station and took him to Zahid’s residence where the deputy minister and other male relatives gave him a severe thrashing. (“They beat me with rocks and other objects. They even threatened to put me in a gunny sack and bury me.”)

Amir Bazli Abdullah showing the clothes he was wearing
when Zahid Hamidi allegedly assaulted him
Zahid Hamidi arrived at the court hearing in full ministerial glory, with police outriders, bodyguards and a huge entourage of supporters. The businessman Amir Bazli Abdullah (who had been dating Zahid’s married daughter) was pressured into settling out of court for an undisclosed amount, after a closed door session with the sessions court judge where no lawyers were allowed.

Amir Bazli with lawyer Gobind Singh Deo
Amir Bazli Abdullah had engaged Karpal Singh and his son Gobind Singh Deo as his lawyers, knowing full well he was up against the Umno mafia which invariably protects its own. 

In any civilized nation, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi would have voluntarily resigned – or at least taken a long leave of absence pending trial. Not so in Bolehland where the powerless are deemed guilty unless proven innocent, while the powerful are never found guilty at all, not even of cold-blooded murder (except in one recorded instance in 1982 when Culture, Youth & Sports Minister Mokhtar Hashim was convicted of murder, but subsequently pardoned by the Agong after he had served some time in prison).

"They even threatened to put me in
a gunny sack and bury me"
Gobind Singh Deo was reported to have said: “I reiterate my urging to the prime minister to suspend Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as the home minister pending trial. I will also raise the matter in Parliament. The allegations against him are serious in nature and they extend beyond assault.” We have seen that any issue of serious import that threatens Umno bigwigs is invariably rejected by the Speaker as trivial.

In July 2013 Amir Bazli Abdullah changed his mind about an out-of-court settlement with Ahmad Zahid, and sought to nullify the sessions court’s mediation in the sordid affair. He admitted to having been thoroughly intimidated at the time by what he was up against.

Next imbroglio

Zahid Hamidi has since stunned the nation with his reckless remarks at an Umno ceramah in Melaka where his speech was secretly recorded by an opposition assemblyman. Zahid told his audience that 28,000 of the 40,000 gang members identified are Indians, and that there was nothing wrong in detaining them without trial.

"What is the situation of robbery victims, murder victims during shootings? Most of them are Malays. Most of them are our race. I think the best way is that we no longer compromise with them. There is no need to give them any more warning. If we get the evidence, we shoot first," the home minister reportedly said.

That’s cowboy talk, not something one would expect hearing from a home minister - and for Zahid’s Umno colleagues to rush to his defence by brushing his speech off as routine grandstanding on the campaign trail reveals their cavalier attitude towards ministerial accountability. It is obvious that Zahid Hamidi has been riding on the crest of a fresh surge of communal sentiments stirred up by BN’s poor electoral showing in the past five years.

Low-grade saber-rattling

Following Dr M’s tried and tested strategy of playing off the Malays’ insecurity against the impatience of Chinese voters for an end to racial discrimination, Zahid has taken on the role of the new Umno strongman.
Najib Razak and his powerful spouse, it appears, would rather take extended working holidays at enormous public expense where he can pose as the moderate, reasonable leader of a peaceful, harmonious Muslim-majority nation while she gleefully goes shopping and hobnobbing with celebrities.

Indeed, Najib seems quite relieved that he can delegate the low-grade saber-rattling to his newly minted home minister, whose impressive lead in the recent Umno vice-presidential polls indicates that he has become a serious contender for the president’s post.

In the eyes of Umno’s semi-literate, rent-seeking rank-and-file, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi may well be the next messiah – the straight-talking, chest-thumping, fang-baring primate alpha jantan (virile male) they can look to, who will save them from being overwhelmed by infidels, liberals, pluralists, reformists, and those of indeterminate gender – but, above all, from Anwar Ibrahim’s ascendancy to power.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has now to overcompensate for his own testicular frailty in 1998 when he betrayed his mentor Anwar Ibrahim and sheepishly returned to the Umno fold. True, he was much younger then and still relatively new to the shark-infested waters of Umno politics. But Zahid has paid his dues as a true-blue Umno warlord by mortgaging his conscience to political expediency.

Without a conscience to call his own, what does he have to lose? He has everything to gain by embracing the role of the next Umno godfather – now that the original godfathers like Mahathir Mohamad and Daim Zainuddin appear to be well past their use-by date. However, as recent developments attest, some old tigers never lose their bite. At the ripe old age of 92 Mahathir Mohamad is once again at the forefront of Malaysian politics, leading the charge against his erstwhile protégé, Najib Razak, also known as Mr Pink Lips or the infamous kleptocrat MO1.

Zahid Hamidi's assault and battery case seems to have been quietly buried – just like his embarrassing attempt in December 2014 to defend international gambling kingpin Paul Phua against an FBI investigation. A few weeks ago, Zahid Hamidi found himself in deep shit once again when Dr M slyly revealed that Zahid had seen him privately to seek his support in a possible coup against his boss Najib. This triggered vigorous denials and public displays of solidarity among Umno's top-rank warlords, but it has exposed yet another huge crack in Umno's defences. The fact that Najib was prompted to create a special position for his cousin Hishammuddin Hussein, facilitating his candidacy as the next Umno president, indicated that there was little real trust between him and his deputy.

At this juncture Najib cannot afford to abruptly dismiss, sideline, or sack Zahid Hamidi who is influential among Umno's underworld elements. Indeed, there is ample reason to suspect that Zahid may well be a secret chief of Tiga Line, a clandestine association of Malay gangsters allied with Umno.
Mahathir Mohamad & Zahid Hamidi: Supermamak vs Java Man (pic courtesy of Malaysiakini)

The only real obstacle in Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s path to power and glory, ironically, is the unstoppable Mahathir Mohamad, who will have his way - even if it means shocking everybody by forming an electoral pact with old nemeses like DAP's Lim Kit Siang and the imprisoned Anwar Ibrahim, who remains the most popular prime minister candidate in the event a new federal government wins the day.

[From Malaysia Chronicle, 3 November 2013, reposted 13 January 2014]