Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Return of the prodigal son

The Star : Wednesday June 4, 2008


Ezam Mohd Nor has been a top news item since being readmitted to Umno. However, party members are not thrilled and are even suspicious of his return.

EZAM Mohd Nor must have felt like a rock star the last few days. He has been lionised by the media. His picture was in every newspaper and Umno president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi personally accepted his membership application papers.

Ezam’s return to Umno has been akin to the proverbial return of the prodigal son. And as with the story of the prodigal son, not everybody is happy with the fanfare it has created.

In fact, as one Umno politician from Kedah put it rather bluntly: “Nobody that I’ve talked to likes it.”

Although his readmission still has to be approved by the Umno supreme council, it has been a burning topic in Umno. The reaction has ranged from bristling distrust to outright hostility.

“Frankly, it left a bitter taste in my mouth. We accept the decision by the higher leadership but let me tell you it’s not going to be easy for us to defend the decision among the grassroots,” said Umno Youth secretary Datuk Rahman Dahlan.

Apparently, Umno members cannot forget Ezam’s deeds – or rather misdeeds – when he was Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s right hand man in PKR.

Ezam had followed Anwar out of Umno in 1998 and play a leading role in the Reformasi movement. He caused a sensation when he claimed to have boxes of evidence of corruption against former minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz.

Shortly before leaving to perform the umrah last week, Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein had told close aides that he “still felt it here (patting his heart) the accusations Ezam made about Umno Youth.”

Moves to bring Ezam back into Umno began shortly after the general election.

Survey statistics showed that not only had Umno failed to win the young Malay vote, but the majority said they would not mind voting for the DAP.

Something drastic had to be done and the circle around the Prime Minister pointed out that it had taken another controversial figure, namely Datuk Azalina Othman Said, to win over young Malay women through Puteri Umno. It was felt that the party needed a youngish figure with a slightly rebellious and edgy image to play a similar role to attract young Malay men's support.

Ezam, who had made his name through his anti-corruption activism, was seen as one such figure. He is 41, charismatic, speaks well and understands both Umno and its political rivals.

“We can see him taking on PKR and its leaders because he knows their weaknesses and strengths,” said Deputy Home Minister Datuk Wan Farid Wan Salleh,

In fact, Anwar had sent several emissaries to persuade Ezam to reconsider his decision. Ezam’s move was not a big blow to PKR but given what he knows of PKR’s internal affairs, it could be potentially damaging.

Ezam has brought in with him a number of ex-PKR office-bearers. They are not consequential names but some in Umno are concerned he may be the precursor to the re-entry of other PKR leaders, including Anwar.

The distrust against him cannot be underestimated and many believe his heart may still be with Anwar. As an Umno politician put it, “tempat jatuh lagi dikenang, apa pula tempat bermain” (if one remembers the places where you fell, what more the places you had revelled in).

Umno vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin captured the sentiment of Umno members when he questioned whether Ezam might be a Trojan Horse from PKR.

What Umno members find hardest to stomach is that someone who had been so treacherous to Umno is now returning as some sort of hero, much less a saviour figure. They say it is sending the wrong message to party members – that they can leave the party, run down its leaders and still be welcomed back.

“We can’t be too emotional about who comes and goes in the party. As they say, there are no permanent friends or foes in politics, only permanent interests. If he is good, he will earn a place,” said Federal Territory Umno Youth chief Datuk Norza Zakaria.

But there is no denying the fact that the Umno reaction to Ezam has been more negative than positive.

The prodigal son will find the path back into Umno to be an uphill journey.

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