It was to have been a glorious start for Umno Youth as their new chief was crowned. But an ugly incident of in-fighting initiated by unhappy supporters of one candidate exposed cracks within the wing that point to a more serious illness within the party.
The drama began slightly after 11pm last night as the results for the wing was announced. It was the last of the three movements under Umno to be read out, delayed by recount after recount for the top post.
A quarter after 11pm, the crowd at and around the podium block, where a giant screen was set up to broadcast live the proceedings from inside the conference hall, had swelled tremendously. Bodies pressed tight against each other for a better view. Even some of the escalators had been halted.
The crowd went wild with cheering, clapping and drumming on any hard surface they could touch, including the notice boards at the surrounding booths every time the master of ceremonies pronounced the winners for the various posts.
And then came the moment everyone was waiting for — the pronouncement of the new Youth chief. It had been an intense fight all the way and it was anybody’s pick of which of the three, Khairy (affectionately known as “KJ” to his admirers), ex-Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohd Khir Toyo, or the one who had led in nominations, Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir.
The tension was palpable.
When the MC called out Khairy’s name, the crowd went wilder. The dam burst. His supporters were raucously yelling “KJ! KJ! KJ!” repeatedly while pumping their fists in the air.
All of a sudden from the sidelines, several groups started chanting “Rasuah! Rasuah! Rasuah!”
Believed to be the disenchanted cheerleaders of Mukhriz, they quickly surged from all directions towards one corner of the hall to confront the Khairy faction.
From above, the entire floor looked like a fight between two colonies of fire ants.
The two factions surged towards each other. There was lots of pushing and shoving and more accusations of bribery flung at each other in strident voices.
No punches were thrown ... yet. But it looked as if it could possibly end in bloody noses and black eyes if the clash continued.
It took another quarter of an hour for the uniformed police to move in and break up the battle between both camps.
It seemed an uphill task. As police attempted to restore order, more of Khairy’s jeerleaders joined the fray, adding fuel to fire.
Mukhriz’s side began hurling a litany of accusations at Khairy, calling him a “Cheat!” and of carrying out a "bribery campaign” even as Khairy’s victory speech continued in the background, broadcast through the giant screen.
It took a long while but finally the police appeared to have muscled order back on the scene. At least three men were escorted out. But the atmosphere inside the concourse remained painfully tense.
Another few teams of police moved in on the scene and linked arms to form a human barricade at the escalators and outside the conference hall to stem the tide of anger.
Unknown to the rest, Mukhriz was taking his leave at the porch outside the Merdeka Hall, surrounded by tearful supporters.
He was observed to be consoling his campaigners, many who were openly and unashamedly weeping while he remained dry-eyed with a small, sad smile tipping the corners of his mouth upwards. Mukhriz’s men were loathe to let him go and burst into shouts of “Long live Mukhriz!”
But he left, finally.
On the sideline, a red-eyed man in songkok, the Umno white baju Melayu and checquered sarong pelikat, was overheard exclaiming: “This is the end. We’re going to lose all three by-elections.”
No doubt the anonymous man was referring to the upcoming by-elections in the two Bukits and one Batang. Perhaps it was a spur-of-the-moment exclamation, an outburst of overwrought emotions, but such thoughts said aloud do not spell a bright future for the wing at such a vulnerable time.
A couple of hours later, as the last of the workers exited the Putra World Trade Centre, a woman campaigner remarked to her companion: “The opposition media were here. It’s so shameful!”