Young turk takes on old guard


  • Letters
  • Saturday, 07 Jun 2003

NEWS ANALYSIS BY JOCELINE TAN

THERE was a sigh of relief recently when Umno Youth leader Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein set up a special committee to look into complaints about “the problem” in the Kulim Bandar Baru Umno Division. 

But “problem” is too understated a word given the intense infighting in the Kedah division, known among Umno members as the “third world war.” 

Few are hopeful of a solution.  

The personalities involved, it is said, are too big and strong-headed and the hostilities have been allowed to continue for far too long. 

“Too many harsh words and accusations have flown between both sides. It has gone too deep,” said a Kedah Umno politician. 

The key actors in the conflict are Datuk Paduka Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, 63, and Azimi Daim, 37.  

Abdul Kadir is the Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister and the division head while Azimi is one of Umno’s most dazzling orators and Youth head of the division. 

Both men have been at loggerheads for well over two years now, with their supporters duly taking sides and generally rendering the division's party activities and programmes awkward and somewhat ineffective. 

Some say the problem has been allowed to simmer this long because Kulim Bandar Baru is a solid Barisan Nasional seat and Umno members, despite the infighting, are staunchly loyal to the party.  

But how did the relationship between Azimi and Abdul Kadir, who is known as “Kadiak” in the local Kedah parlance and was once Azimi’s political patron, deteriorate to such a level of animosity?  

Their problem, it is claimed, is a classic example of the tensions that exist in every political party between the old guards and the young turks. 

Azimi’s oratory talent came to the fore in the 1995 general election campaign.  

Shortly after, Abdul Kadir who was made Human Resources Minister, roped him in as his private secretary.  

Abdul Kadir’s patronage also propelled him to win unopposed the post of Umno Youth head in Kulim Bandar Baru.  

In 2000, the young politician was suddenly appointed a member of the party supreme council and that, Azimi admitted, was when things began to go downhill between them.  

Azimi was also made national information chief of Umno Youth and, overnight, became a rising star in Umno.  

People even thought he was related to Tun Daim Zainuddin but they are not. 

Moreover, the good-looking Azimi resembles the actor Hani Mohsin and the Umno crowd began referring to him as Jimmi Asmara, the hero of the movie in which the actor starred. 

The newfound fame also sparked speculation that Abdul Kadir was on the way out and Azimi on the way in. There was even talk that Azimi would be the next parliamentary candidate for the area. 

The misunderstanding that developed grew into mistrust, the mistrust into open squabbling, and the squabbling snowballed into an outright fight for control of the division through the setting up of new branches and attempts to move votes of no confidence at division meetings. 

In the party’s division elections in 2001, tensions escalated when Azimi, who already retained his Youth head post after a tough fight, proceeded to contest for the deputy division chief’s post against incumbent Hussein Rahman, who is Abdul Kadir's political secretary.  

It was a show of defiance on Azimi’s part but he lost. 

It was outright war from then on, with Azimi’s detractors projecting him as being greedy for contesting two posts, a political no-no in Umno.  

“He is a young man who became arrogant after being made a supreme council member. Just because he is an orator, he thinks he can change the world,” said a supporter of Abdul Kadir. 

Azimi’s side insisted he had acted in self-defence. 

“Azimi has a unique talent. It is tragic that people will go to such an extent to stop him from going up. That’s the trouble with division warlords,” said a Youth exco member. 

Matters came to a head in April when Abdul Kadir’s supporters accused Azimi of hiring thugs to prevent members from attending the Youth AGM while Azimi’s supporters claimed that not all of those who arrived in two busloads were validated members. 

Both sides lodged reports with the Youth wing’s management committee which, somewhat awkwardly, is headed by Umno Youth deputy chief Datuk Aziz Sheikh Fadzir, the younger brother of Abdul Kadir. 

As a result, Hishammuddin had to step in to oversee the inquiry into the issue.  

A team comprising four Youth exco members is still studying the complaints. 

Hishammuddin is outwardly hopeful but other Umno politicians are less so and have taken to referring to the inquiry’s mission as the “road map for peace” (read: as remote as peace in the Middle East). 

Both sides have not spared any effort in explaining their version of the events to party leaders.  

But the leaders have refrained from getting involved, perhaps because both the main actors in the conflict are equally important to Umno, although in different ways. 

Abdul Kadir has been the most energetic and imaginative Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister the country ever had.  

On the other hand, people in Umno say Azimi’s talent as a speaker is currently unrivalled in the party. 

The problem in Kulim Bandar Baru is a bitter lesson on the perils of Umno politics at the division level and of what can happen when old guards and young turks cannot see eye to eye.  

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