How Pak Lah saved democracy in 2008



PETALING JAYA: Former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi made sure of a peaceful and smooth transfer of power after opposition parties won control of five states in the 2008 general election, according to an insider’s account of events at Umno headquarters that night.

Businessman and former journalist Kalimullah Hassan, a close associate of Abdullah, writes in a new book of how Abdullah instructed the police to secure the offices of the state secretaries and to ensure that political leaders of both sides prevented their supporters from taking to the streets.

Abdullah’s behind-the-scenes firmness “did not endear him to Umno leaders who felt that he had let them down”, said Kalimullah, noting wryly that “Umno, as the country has seen, finds it difficult to come to terms with defeat in an election.”

In his book The Malaysia That Could Be, an extract of which was published by the Singapore Straits Times today, Kalimullah relates events and conversations that took place at the headquarters of Umno and the Barisan Nasional on the night of March 8, 2008 as election returns were reported.

He noted that Umno supreme council member Azalina Othman had appeared to be distraught when she came out into the corridor in tears, saying: “This is all the fault of the Chinese.”

He also relates how former Selangor Menteri Besar Muhammad Muhammad Taib tried to calm her down and shoved her inside, and asked that Abdullah be informed. “The PM has to know… this is dangerous talk” and Muhammad later told Abdullah: “I think you have to calm our people.”

Kalimullah said Abdullah told them not to worry. “This is all part of the democratic process. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose.”

The PM then spoke to the then Inspector-General of Police, Musa Hassan, on the telephone, telling Musa that he wanted to ensure “a smooth handover of power” but was concerned that emotions could run high.

Musa was to secure the office of state secretariats and ensure no files or documents were removed. The police were ordered to ensure security and oversee the handing over of power. Musa was also to inform political leaders to ensure that supporters did not go out into the streets.

“I cannot recall his exact words but Abdullah told Musa to warn both the opposition and his own party leaders that he would not brook nor tolerate any attempt to create trouble and that if anyone did so, they would face the full brunt of the law,” Kalimullah wrote.

He said Abdullah also rejected efforts by defeated BN state leaders to “buy over” assemblymen or to “cause problems” in marginal states like Kedah, Perak and Selangor.

“But [Abdullah] put his foot down and where gentle advice did not work, he warned that he would not hesitate to use the law on anyone – party member, friend or foe – who tried to subvert the democratic process,” wrote Kalimullah, who was deputy chairman of the New Straits Times Press at the time.

“However, later, in 2009, in Abdullah’s last days as prime minister, his successor-to-be, Najib Razak, engineered the defections of three assemblymen in Perak, which caused the Pakatan Rakyat-led state government to fall.

“By that time, Abdullah was already a lame duck and could only watch from the sidelines,” Kalimullah wrote.