Between a dentist and a frog

Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

Pakatan Rakyat leaders were unfazed at the prospect of renegade colleague Ezam Mohd Noor returning to challenge them for control of Selangor, now that former chief minister Khir Toyo has been arrested and charged for graft.

“Actually, it will make our work easier. Both men are tainted leaders. One for corruption and the other is a frog,” PAS MP for Kota Raja Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud told Malaysia Chrnoicle.

She was referring to Ezam, a former PKR Youth chief, who stunned his party by hopping back to Umno in 2006, citing disillusionment and unhappiness with deputy president Azmin Ali. Indeed, when another former Umno leader Zaid Ibrahim recently quit PKR after failing to beat Azmin for the No. 2 post, there were expectations he too would pull the same “Ezam trick”.

But Ezam may not be up to the task

The shock arrest of Khir had sent ripples around the nation, especially through Selangor Umno. Top on the minds of most members was who would take over from Khir. The 45-year old former dentist has resigned as the Selangor opposition chief and questions are buzzing around town as to who will now drive Prime Minister Najib Razak’s quest to recapture the country's richest state.

“The project of capturing Selangor from Pakatan Rakyat will be placed on Ezam due to his many contacts in PKR," an Umno source had told Harakahdaily.

Although the source was quick to add that Noh Omar, Khir’s deputy and the Agriculture minister, was needed at the federal level, pundits told Malaysia Chronicle that Najib - who is also the Umno president - preferred Ezam to Noh.

Ezam’s promotion to Senator earlier this year was already Najib's way of signalling that he would be given bigger tasks, the pundits said.

But not all that glitters is gold and Ezam’s former colleagues at PKR do not share Najib’s confidence in his ability.

“Ezam could not even organize the youth movement when he was the wing’s chief in PKR. He left the youth movement in complete disarray. When Shamsul (Iskandar Akin) took over after Ezam left, he had to start from scratch. I doubt Ezam has the capacity to lead Umno’s Selangor takeover bid,” PKR vice president Fuziah Salleh told Malaysia Chronicle.

Khir's men jump ship

Nonetheless, speculation remains red-hot that Ezam will soon be named the Umno liaison chief for Selangor. He is also expected to be tasked to expand the People's Volunteer Corps or Rela in the state so that Umno could make use of new recruits to pose as voters during the elections.

“This has been done successfully in Terengganu in 2004 after the voter turnout rose by 95 percent,” the source had warned.

Meanwhile, Khir's supporters are starting to grumble about his arrest to the top Umno leadership. Due to five decades of uninterrupted political dominance, Umno has ruled Malaysia with arrogance and a fist of iron. It seldom punishes its leaders despite blatant evidence of corruption.

Khir's camp, which has the most to lose from his fall from grace, are now trying to find new ships to jump onto, while lambasting Najib for making Khir "a scapegoat" for snap general elections widely expected to be called early next year.

The decision to press charges against Khir is seen by man Malaysians as an "election gimmick" to create a feel-good factor and to revive flagging public confidence in Najib's leadership.

Khir was charged for corruption under Section 165 of the Penal Code alongside company director Shamsuddin Haryoni. He is accused of having accepted bribes from Shamsuddin by buying two plots of land in Section 7, Shah Alam, at a huge discount. The land was used to build his mansion, popularly known as ‘Bali Castle’. If found guilty, he can be fined or jailed up to a maximum of two years.

Nonetheless, many Malaysians smell a "brokered deal" and have openly questioned why he was not charged for some of the more serious graft complaints lodged against him.

"Khir's men are caught in between. No doubt, he may have worked it out with Najib but his supporters have lost even more ground than before. They know he is finished and has to go on long political leave. To survive, they have to find new leaders to latch onto - not that they like him, but no matter how, they feel they are the ones who have lost the most because of his downfall," an Umno watcher told Malaysia Chronicle.

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