Tengku Razaleigh or Ku Li, as he is affectionately known, - Kelantan Prince, former UMNO strongman, former Finance Minister, and an almost-Prime Minister - had his meteoric political ascendancy in UMNO truncated when he was effectively cast into the political wilderness.
After his bruising battle with Dr Mahathir, he left the most powerful political entity in Malaysia, UMNO, to form the rival Semangat 46. He had to, because as a Chinese saying goes, on one mountain there cannot be two tigers.
The current Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was then a member of Ku Li’s camp that dared to challenge Dr Mahathir for the top positions of UMNO. Dr Mahathir won and went on to be Malaysia’s longest reigning prime minister (I was going to use ‘serving’ but …).
In that UMNO battle, the winner took all, while in most cases, the loser, like the losing male of a lion’s pack, was politically ‘killed off’.
I said ‘most cases’ because, those who have lost but would concede defeat gracefully and show continued loyalty, especially if laced with servile humility and respect for the Alpha of the pack, and are not too prominent enough to be a threat to the winners, like the current PM Abdullah Badawi, might yet be rehabilitated.
Abdullah Badawi had the political nous to continue sticking with UMNO even if he had to eat humble pie for a while. Look where he is today. Just as well for him, for Ku Li's Semangat 46 was a political flop. Eventually even Ku Li had to creep back to UMNO. Undoubtedly Anwar Ibrahim has studied this clear lesson, that without UMNO no political aspirant could or would get anywhere.
But Ku Li had too many baggage - he departed UMNO in acrimonious circumstances, he took too long to return, perhaps he was unforgiven by Mahathir, and as a very senior member he was a virtual threat to every ambitious wannabe leader in UMNO.
He languished in the shadows in UMNO until he saw his old mate, Abdullah Badawi ascending to the No 1 position, when he thought he might have a place at the top again. But Comeback Kid he wasn't, for sadly his former supporter, now PM, saw no further use for him. Besides, a man long out of mainstream UMNO politics is considered as a political zombie, a political living dead. And the embarrassing part has been that he came back because he was a failure outside.
In desperation at being shut out, Ku Li even challenged Abdullah Badawi for UMNO’s top post, but how could a zombie outsider beat the incumbent, then the man of the season and at the centre of political power and authority. Again, Anwar Ibrahim would have seen all these and realises now that he has to deal with a very cautious, unsentimental and perhaps even very wily Abdullah Badawi.
One would have thought Ku Li would fade away by now but he wanted to give it one old jolly last go – he decided to assume a double pronged ‘attack’ for a role in UMNO. For a start, he adopted a controversial but old winner by publicly voicing strong criticism of the government in permitting non-Malay language educational institutions such as the Chinese-owned Tengku Abdul Rahman University to exist, a move that would prove undoubtedly a sure favourite with UMNO hardcore ‘warriors’. Sure enough the Malay NGOs supported him. Then, he bemoaned regrets that the government hasn’t helped the Malays solve their problems despite its power and authority to do so.
Many who had sympathised with him now feel sad that a man like Ku Li, once urbane, charming, cosmopolitan and so open-minded, has to resort to parochial language and tactics. Every Malaysian knows his accusation of the government not helping the Malays is sheer nonsense. Ku Li must be desperate because that kind of comment is totally out of character for him.
Now, the President of Gabungan Pelajar Melayu Semenanjung (GPMS), has come out in damage control for Ku Li in the face of the Gerakan Party's accusation of Ku Li playing ethnic politics. He claimed that Ku Li had been misinterpreted. According to him, Ku Li had actually said if the government could entertain the Chinese needs for mother tongue educational institutions from primary schools right up to TAR University, surely it can entertain the Malays' educational requirements as well, and that shouldn't be misconstrued as ethnic politics directed against the Chinese.
They say old soldiers don’t die but fade away. Maybe Ku Li might want to consider that process instead of stirring up dangerous emotions.