16 November 1998

Who are these persons elder statesman, veteran and enforcer?

An elder statesman, according to William Safire Pulitzer prize-winner and an expert in American English and politics, is an old politician or adviser to presidents who is treated with respect and some veneration.

A veteran, on the other hand, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, is a person who has grown old or has long experience, especially in military service or any other occupation (like a war veteran or a veteran of the theatre). In America, he is a former service man.

An enforcer is someone who compels observance of a law, a decision or a regime.

However, in Bahasa Malaysia, a veteran is generally accepted as "orang lama" or "seniwati lama" - a veteran actress - or seorang "politikus lama" - a veteran politician.

I would like to believe we do not have, at present, any elder statesman. However, we do have many veteran politicians. An elder statesman tells the truth, and one cannot expect verity from anyone, I reckon, if he still harbours hope, no matter how unrealistically, of be-coming the prime minister!

I am quoting Safire from his Political Dictionary to strengthen my argument: Slave abolitionist Wendell Phillips in 1860 said: "You can always get the truth from an American statesman after he has turned seventy, or given up all hope of the presidency" Safire says elder statesmen are occasionally party elders as well as those who are "above partisan politics", and, if I may also add above factions and narrow interests. An elder statesman is someone whom the prime minister, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, can turn to for advice, who wishes to show the breadth and depth of his brains and lends his prestige to a particular policy or action the premier envisages and contemplates to pursue.

If someone is an acknowledged elder statesman he should sit back and offer his suggestions and criticisms to the government in private. In other words, he must be at the edge of power and not at its centre or hogging the limelight.

After 43 years of continuous power, Umno has thousands of "veterans" or "orang lama", former office holders, who are past 65. My personal definition of an "orang lama" is one who is over 65 years old and no longer holds office in the party or government. If he holds office he is not a veteran even if he is 72 or 80.

Thus, according to my definition, Tan Sri Sulaiman Ninam Shah, the current Umno permanent chairman, is neither an elder statesman nor a veteran though he is nearly 80.

Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair's closest aide was granted (although not completely) his wish to run his own ministry when Blair appointed him to the cabinet as Trade and Industry Secretary in the summer reshuffle. Until his promotion to the high table, the ambitious and influential Mandelson was Minister Without Portfolio and an "enforcer" of Blair's Wishes

Mandelson was expected to head the revamped Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster but because of strong opposition from Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the job was given to Jack Cunningham, the Minister of Agriculture. As the head of this revamped department, Cunningham, another close adviser of Blair, will ensure that the prime minister's writs run across rival departments and ministries.

Most British political commentators agree that this makes Cunningham effectively Labour's and the government's chief public spokesman.

This should make readers wonder who Tunku Abdul Rahman's "enforcers" were? WelI, as far as I can determine, and I do not believe I am wrong, publicly it was Tun Razak, and the "faceless enforcer" was his influential PPS (Principal Private Secretary), Datuk Nik Hassan Abdul Rahman.

Tun Razak's "enforcer"? It depends on who you speak to. My enemies as well as friends say it was me. Tun Hussein's? Although Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the deputy prime minister, the main "enforcer" was the ambitious Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie, the all powerful home affairs minister who came last among the seven candidates in the important Umno vice-presidential election in 1975.

In spite of Ghazali's all out efforts, his performance was humiliatingly poor. Ghaffar Baba, Tengku Razaleigh and Mahathir won as desired by Razak.

Mahathir is in his 1-3th year as prime minister and readers may ask who are his "enforcers"? Well, right now, I believe, one of them is the Minister of Special Functions, Tun Daim Zainuddin. I shall not speculate on the others, however, one or two are at Jalan Dato' Onn.

Daim, like Mahathir, is one of the great success stories of Malaysian politics in the last quarter of this century. I believe under the strong leadership of Mahathir with the right policies supported by the people, Malaysia's recovery is imminently achievable.

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )