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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ali Rustam's career in the balance

KUALA LUMPUR, March 17 – By Baradan Kuppusamy | malaysianinsider

Ali Rustam faces a possible career threatening move if the Umno Disciplinary Committee decides to take action against him.

– Bernama pic

The careers of several top Umno leaders, including that of Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Mohd Ali Rustam, the front runner in the race for the deputy president's post, is hanging in the balance.

The Umno Disciplinary Committee headed by Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen will announce at 4pm today whether Mohd Ali and others including Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo, the former Selangor Mentri Besar and contestant for the Umno Youth president's post, are disqualified for breaching Umno rules.

If they are disqualified, it will not only hand their rivals a walkover, but Umno itself will be gripped in uncertainties and infighting because the felled leaders are not pushovers but enjoy strong support in Umno.

Umno faces a period of internal strife at a time when the country is on edge and negotiating un-chartered territory.

It is also shocking that after several months at the job the disciplinary committee chooses the final week of the Umno elections to clamp down on top leaders accused of buying votes.

Any possible actions against Mohd Ali - a warning, suspension or disqualification - would not only seriously affect his chances against his opponents - Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin - but derail his meteoric rise in Umno.

It is a career founded on several organisations like the World Assembly of Youth and Gerakan Belia 4B both of which he is president. He is also president of the Dunia Melayu Dunia Islam and chairman of the World Youth Foundation.

His strength in Umno is built not on directly winning influence which would have brought him into conflict with other top Umno leaders but indirectly through the affiliated youth and Islamic organisations whose members were also Umno members.

It is a carefully structured political bandwagon that gave Mohd Ali considerable clout in Umno and put him ahead of even top Umno leaders like Muhyiddin in the race for the deputy president's post.

Nevertheless by vaulting over numerous top Umno leaders and coming within sight of the number two post, Ali has ruffled features and sparked panic in the top echelons of Umno and in the country.

Sections of society seriously question his "suitability and qualification" to be deputy Umno president and with that the job as deputy prime minister.

"There is serious doubt whether he is cut out for it," is a common refrain in the alternative Internet-based media.

Born in 1949, he was a clerk with the then-National Electricity Board before graduating from Universiti Sains Malaysia in 1984 and began his career in Umno as a branch leader in Malacca.

He became chief minister in 1999 and is credited with putting Malacca on the world map.

He combined a hard line pro-Malay nationalist stand with moderate Islam publicly but compensated for it by privately courting non-Malay leaders in the Barisan Nasional.

While publicly he was pro-Malay but privately he was pro-Malaysian.

In recent months however he courted controversy with statements that did not go down well with non-Malays but his popularity among Umno members rose in tandem.

In all his publications, website and pro-Ali blogs - which are numerous - he assiduously cultivated himself as an ally of Prime Minister-designate Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Visually in images the two always appear together with the image of Najib larger than Mohd Ali's, indicating a master-loyal servant relationship.

And during the putsch last year to oust Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, Mohd Ali played the role of a "fair minded" person allowing Muhyiddin to take the lead.

By doing that he earned the respect of Abdullah and his faction and is now seen as supported by the out-going Prime Minister in the contest for the number two party job.

Coupled with his association with Najib, backing from Abdullah and his own wide support in Umno, Mohd Ali took a comfortable lead - going by a Universiti Malaya poll among Umno members, in the race for the number two post.

He might have overreached by vaulting over the heads of many others equally determined and ambitious in Umno.

All the gains of a lifetime are now at stake for Mohd Ali if the axe falls on him today.

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